Australia Deer Cull pros and cons feature

To Cull or Not To Cull

Examining the Pros and Cons of Australia’s Deer Cull

If it was Shakespeare talking, he would end this sentiment by saying “But that is the question.” But in the case of Australia’s deer cull, the only question remaining is – can it be improved?

For those of you just catching up, the South Australian Government plans to eradicate all feral deer in the state by 2032 through an aggressive culling program. Because of their status as a non-native species, deer are at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole when it comes to asset allocation from the government. By naturally competing with native wildlife and valuable livestock species for grass – as well as causing damage to trees which contribute to erosion and head-on vehicle road crashes – deer are seen as a nuisance species despite providing some economic benefits via hunting. With a current estimation of 40,000 feral deer in South Australia right now (ABC Rural, Eugene Botsvert), the government has elected to use helicopter gunships (which are hired and contracted by the government at the taxpayers’ expense) to quickly cull large herds of animals in an efficient manner.

That seems like a laudable goal. Deer are non-native species. They don’t technically belong on the landscape. Getting rid of them should be good for Australian native fauna and flora, as well as Australians writ large, right? This is after all a prevailing thought pattern that has perpetuated throughout Australian conservation circles for decades. But I would challenge that this notion is archaic in today’s world of dynamic conservation and resource management. South Australia is the perfect place to test a new philosophy. One that actually has everyone singing off the same sheet of music and here’s why.

Currently, the South Australian Government, specifically the Environmental Minister Susan Close, is pushing hard to ban bowhunting under the specific language that it is unethical and causes unnecessary pain and suffering to animals. Well, I’m not going to rehash the wheel, instead you can go and look at this video where I break down her untrue and fabricated lies with SCIENCE. But that is beyond the point.

Here is where things get interesting though. There are currently videos coming out of South Australia where the humane nature and ethics of culling are being questioned. Animals being harassed, shot, and left to rot on hillsides…culling is a great concept. But we have to remember that it is just death. Similar to the outcry around hunting. So where is finger-pointing for this? Where is the public outcry? Who is actually standing up and saying is this right?

The answer? No one.

Australia Deer Cull pros and cons harvested deer

You would expect the Minister of the Environment, who is taking bowhunters to task as being unethical, to be at the front of the line advocating for a cleaner solution, or the RSPCA, or any of the hundreds of animal rights organizations in Australia. But it appears to me they all have turned their backs and a proverbial blind eye to the issues with the state’s current culling program. Hypocritical may be too loose a term.

These deer have been in Australia since the mid-1800s – so let’s call it 175 years. I think we can all agree that they are an integral part of the fabric of Australia now. But just like Kangaroos, and all other wildlife that can cause environmental damage, they require management in order for all parties to flourish.

Could there be a better way? Sure. But culling is necessary. Management and reduction of deer numbers are necessary pretty much wherever they live. In a situation like South Australia though – hunters cannot do the heavy lifting by themselves. So yes, helicopter culling is necessary. But in today’s society where we have a lot of needs, with a lot of hungry people, and people that are struggling for clean protein – why not utilize this resource to help the community and state at large? It’s not like South Australia is teeming with other incredibly healthy, abundantly ready food resources that can be sustainably utilized (if you are shouting about kangaroo that’s a whole other issue).

Using these culled deer to feed communities would go a long way to helping the image of the culling campaign. But again…political excuses. The government will say that they can’t recover the carcasses due to additional costs and difficulty in recovering carcasses. Come on, let’s be realistic.

The state is covering 80% of the cost already. It would not be too much of an additional charge for them to take on the recovery of these animals for food purposes. But then they would argue that the terrain is too thick and it’d be a waste of time and effort, if not impossible, to recover most carcasses. Sometimes, sure. But most of the videos I’ve witnessed are showing these cull hunts out in the open. I’ve also personally seen the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation (FWF) helicopters pull carcasses out of an environment akin to the Amazon rainforest on top of the Himalayas so, with a tad more effort on their side, the South Australian government could too.

Australia Deer Cull pros and cons farm

With a burgeoning human population that raises disparity of societal status and life-changing events such as COVID that put a damper in our global food supply chain, something has to eventually give. We are living in a society that has sectors that have a great need for food. This problem is not going to get smaller but larger over time.

Could you imagine fulfilling a promise that no person in Australia will go hungry? How life-changing would that be for some of your state’s constituents? The fact that this isn’t even being considered is a shame considering the incredible food resource that right now is being shot and left to rot on the side of a hill.

You might be saying that’s a pipe dream, Robbie. Sounds amazing, but it will never work.

But it’s working, in New Zealand, FWF is proving it, year after year after year. Why hasn’t the state looked to adopt a version of their model? Total eradication of any species anywhere in the world is extremely expensive if not impossible. However, 70-80% control of the population is completely manageable and economical. Let’s also be honest – if South Australia eradicated all its deer within its borders by 2032 – what’s to stop more deer coming in? Are they then planning on putting a fence up around the state? It’s a never-ending eradication plan.

In an ideal world, we’d be able to blend the value of hunting with management and resource use. Hunting these animals will bring vital economic injections in the South Australia economy and likely, more importantly, support small rural areas by putting dollars straight into farmer’s pockets for lease fees. When reductions occur to a certain point, you can expect to see native fauna and flora flourishing, and an ecosystem back in balance (this happens before eradication). But lastly, we must consider the ethical nature of so much wasted meat. How we, as a society, must come together to put value on organic, healthy, free-range resources that can be used in a way that benefits society. With the way the world is going, with global uncertainty and food shortages, we might need this meat someday, if not now. It’d be a shame to leave it on the ground to rot.

The real question the South Australian government and Susan Close need to be asking themselves isn’t “How can we get rid of these deer as fast as possible” but instead, “How can we get the most value out of these animals, period”.