Down Under bioxenophobia intensifies– Aliens in their native land
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2002:
LEURA, New South Wales, Australia–Twenty-six years after
convening the first meeting of Animal Liberation Australia, 12 years
after venturing to India, Christine Townend has returned home. She
and her retired lawyer husband Jeremy Townend are back more-or-less
to stay–while making frequent visits to India to supervise their
ongoing humane projects.
Yet Townend admits she often feels like an alien. She senses
a meanness of spirit in Australia now that she did not
previously recognize, in her past
careers as activist, teacher, poet, short story writer, and
investigative author, whose 1985 book Pulling The Wool remains the
classic expose of the Down Under sheep trade.
Then, Townend believed, rough Australian treatment of
animals was mainly from ignorance. Behind the Aussie swagger and
bluster, she believed, were good hearts, who could be brought
around to treating all animals with kindness. She has become less
“I feel that morals in Austalia as regards animals have gone
backward since I left,” Townend told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “Every day
there is something in the news about mass slaughters of animals.
There seems to be an orgy of killing underway, with absolutely no
consideration about the ethics of taking of life. Today it is
camels, yesterday it was brumbies (wild horses), and on Friday it
was foxes. Animal protection people are really struggling to get
any publicity at all.”
Townend finds that a sad contrast to India.
“It is hard to reconcile myself to moving from the
philosophical and spiritual respect for all life which has existed in
India for thousands of years, to immersion in the Australian
attitude of unthinking slaughter and killing of animals,” Townend
The Indian literacy rate is half that of Australia, but even
Indians who are not kind to animals know that the Hindu, Jain, and
Buddhist cultural traditions require that they should be–and so did
Islam, as interpreted by the 16th century Mogul emperor Akbar the
Great, who first united much of India. Indian newspapers are thin
beside those of Australia, yet animal advocacy and protection rate
regular coverage. There is editorial agitation from some papers,
notably The Times of India, to amend the national animal control
policy so as to resume killing street dogs–but even The Times of
India does not pretend that there are no credible opposing views.
Kerry Lonergan, executive producer of the Australian TV news
magazine show Landmine, by contrast curtly and completely dismissed
Townend when she pointed out to him after a July 20 episode promoting
fox hunting that, “It is not efficacious to remove some of a
population of introduced animals if conditions are favourable to
their survival. This is because the remainder who have not been
removed continue to breed, often at an increased rate due to lack of
competition for food and cover. Therefore killing foxes,” as
Lonergan favored, “is carried out for commercial rather than
ecological purposes, and at best can only temporarily reduce the fox
The basic principles of wildlife ecology favored Townend,
but Lonergan shot back, “Foxes kill native fauna as well as
domesticated animals like sheep, cattle, and horses,” disregarding
that there seems to be no case on record anywhere of foxes ever
attacking either cattle and horses except when rabid–a non-issue in
Australia, which has no rabies.
“Environmentalists will tell you foxes are responsible for
the extinction or near extinction of many of our smaller
ground-dwelling animals,” Lonergan continued, equally oblivious to
the actuality that the major prey of foxes in Australia, as
elsewhere, are rabbits, mice, and rats.
Like the foxes of Australia, rabbits, mice, and rats are
non-native, introduced during the mid-19th century. Like the foxes,
they too are blamed for extirpations and extinctions of native
marsupials. Reality, however, is that ground-dwelling marsupials
lost their habitat to fires set to clear land, lost their burrows to
the pounding of sheeps’ hooves, and their lives by the millions to
recreational shooting, trapping, clubbing, and hunting with dogs,
beginning to disappear from the first-farmed regions decades before
the rabbits and foxes arrived. Sheep came to Australia in 1788.
Rabbits and foxes were brought 70 years later, as deliberate imports
to be hunted –because the native prey had run thin.
Rabbits and foxes knew how to live in deep warrens at the
edges of sheep pastures and, like the mice and rats, were able how
to outbreed human depredation. They moved into the vacated habitat
niches and thrived–just as did the transported British convicts who
built the Australian nation, conquering a largely uninhabited
Help In Suffering
In Jaipur, India, the Townends live in two cluttered rooms
on the grounds of the Help In Suffering animal shelter and hospital
they built in 1991, after taking over the organization from the late
Crystal Rogers, who founded it in 1978.
The garden is pleasant, the resident beasts of more than a
dozen species are mostly well-behaved and appreciative, and the
Townends’ work is highly regarded throughout the nation. Yet the
noise, dirt, heat, chaos, crowding, and constant exposure to
poverty and suffering animals and humans who also sometimes get
emergency aid from Help In Suffering are scarcely what most former
westerners would retire to.
The open flames of the traditional Hindu crematorium next
door provide a constant reminder of mortality which alone might daunt
the typical retiree, even without a daily influx of road-injured
dogs and cats, lame horses, wormy goats, and sometimes even an
abandoned, inarticulate, desperately ill mentally handicapped
person with nowhere else to go.
After 12 years of putting Help In Suffering on its feet,
directing a successful city-wide street dog sterilization campaign,
eradicating canine rabies locally, opening a second Help In
Suffering shelter and hospital in the far-off Himalayan foothills
city of Darjeeling, encouraging expansion of Jaipur human as well as
humane services, and gradually transferring the day-to-day Help In
Suffering management responsibilities to hired staff, the Townends’
visits back home to Australia are stretching from the few brief weeks
they dared to take off at first, to as long as four months at a
stretch, allowing their handpicked and long trained successors the
opportunity to grow into the job.
But now Townend, as a former member of the New South Wales
government animal welfare advisory council, is beginning to feel
compelled to resume struggles in Australia that she had hoped would
be resolved for the better by now.
Instead, the current government of New South Wales recently
liberalized the NSW hunting rules to encourage more killing of feral
species. Twenty-seven organizations promoting animal rights, animal
welfare, environmental concerns, and gun control opposed the bill,
to almost no visible effect.
Influential defenders of non-native wildlife are scarce these
days in both Australia and neighboring New Zealand, where the
purging is as vicious.
What defense of non-natives is accomplished is mostly done by
small advocacy groups formed on behalf of individual charismatic
species. Among the species having some vocal champions are wild
horses, rare breeds of livestock, feral cats, rabbits, flying
foxes, and dingoes, often called non-native despite a history of
20,000 to 60,000 years in Australia.
Their defenders express two separate dimensions of concern:
the right of nonnative animals to survive at all, wherever they hold
a niche, and the cruelty of many of the means used to kill them.
The right to exist might be seen as an animal rights issue,
while preventing cruelty, even in connection with extirpation, is
an animal welfare issue.
Neither the Down Under animal rights community nor the animal
welfare community, however, makes the plight of non-native wildlife
a focal concern. There may be many reasons for this, including a
feeling that defending non-natives may be seen as indifference toward
the many native species now on the verge of extinction; desire to
avoid conflict with the many Australian organizations dedicated to
protecting native species; the hope of avoiding the label of
“bunny-hugger,” which carries even stronger pejorative connotations
of irrational sentimentality Down Under than elsewhere in the world;
and simple preoccupation with other issues demanding time and
Echoing a global trend, and following Townend’s own example
in writing Pulling The Wool, the Down Under animal rights community
has shifted gradually from an early focus on antivivisectionism to a
current emphasis on behalf of farm animals. The best-known
Australian activist since Animal Liberation author Peter Singer took
a professorial post at Princeton University in New Jersey may be
Patty Mark, who has campaigned across the spectrum of animal issues
for decades, but became prominent for recent rescues of sick and
injured hens from factory farms.
The Royal SPCA of Australia and the New Zealand SPCA, though
critical of overt cruelty to non-natives, tend like the SPCA
organizations of other nations to focus on dog-and-cat issues, with
some attention to farm animals and native species. As in other
nations with national SPCAs, the Australian and New Zealand SPCAs
strive–not always successfully–to maintain political alliances with
organizations of comparable size and vintage specifically dedicated
to protecting birds and native wildlife.
The strongest organization Down Under making defense of
non-native wildlife a priority is the Australian Wildlife Protection
Council. Founded by Arthur Queripel in 1969, now headed by Maryland
Wilson, and also very active on behalf of native Australian
wildlife, the Australian Wildlife Protection Council lists Peter
Singer and legislator Richard Jones as patrons. Both were involved
with Townend in forming Animal Liberation Australia.
Though dynamic, the Australian Wildlife Protection Council
is smaller than most of the leading organizations seeking to purge
feral species, and often has difficulty making itself heard. It
advances the views that wildlife of all species is best served by the
perspective that all life is sacred; culling of any species,
regardless of the frequent pretense to ecological necessity, tends
to serve human economic interests more than the purported animal
beneficiaries; and that Australian native species tend to hold their
own against the less well climatically adapted non-natives, contrary
to common impression, when allowed to do so. Any real threat to
native species attributed to non-native animals, the Australian
Wildlife Protection Council argues, is primarily the result of
introduced habitat change, and it is restoring habitat, not killing
non-natives, which is most essential to enabling rare native species
The Australian Wildlife Protection Council seems to be the
only prominent organization in either Australia or New Zealand to
recognize that introduced wild species chiefly fill vacant habitat
niches, and survive, when they do, only as part of re-establishing
a lost ecological balance.
The major voices for non-native wildlife in New Zealand
appear to be Betty and Walter Rowe, American emigrants who founded
the Arapawa Wildlife Sanctuary in 1986, 15 years after settling on
Arapawa Island in East Bay, South Island. The sanctuary maintains
three pigs, 85 goats, and 12 sheep who are descended from animals
left on Arapawa by Captain James Cook and others prior to 1839, whom
the Rowes and allies protected from extermination efforts.
Longstanding New Zealand government policy is to extirpate
non-native wildlife wherever possible. The only mammals considered
native to New Zealand are bats.
The Arapawa Wildlife Sanctuary also protects resident native
birds, leads efforts to save the small East Bay population of
endangered Hector’s dolphins, whose plight the New Zealand
government has been very slow to address despite international
pressure, and also leads a related campaign to rid the East Bay of
floating mussel farms–allegedly a threat to the dolphins, a source
of pollution, and an industry built around a species introduction.
A small endowment for the sanctuary, incorporated as the
Arapawa Wildlife Trust, was recently provided by the estate of
former Marlborough Express chief reporter Jim Kidson. The survival
of the Arapawa Wildlife Sanctuary is now somewhat more assured than
before, especially in the immediate aftermath of a March 1999 fire
that razed the Rowes’ home and killed their dog.
Yet the struggle against lethal wildlife management is not
over, Betty Rowe told ANIMAL PEOPLE in mid-July 2002. Drifting
aerial sprays apparently directed at nearby government land had just
caused four goats to lose their hair, two to go blind, two to die,
and many to spontaneously abort.
“We have lost four baby goats in three days, and a third
buck is about to die,” Betty Rowe said. “The symptoms are scouring,
loss of fitness and weight, bulging eyes, crying out, and
inability to walk or stand, followed by wasting away. The goats
seem to be more the victims than the sheep or pigs.”
Betty Rowe was not certain what was sprayed, or what the
target species was, but her description of the unusual “web-like”
texture of the spray sounded like the shredded beets and carrots
steeped in Compound 1080 that the New Zealand Conservation Department
has used intensively to kill introduced species including feral pigs,
deer, and brush possums.
In fact, New Zealand reportedly uses 90% of global
production of Compound 1080. Also widely used in Australia,
Compound 1080 was banned from general use in the U.S. in 1972,
although USDA Wildlife Services is allowed to use sheep collars
containing it to kill coyotes.
Brush possums, brought from Australia in the early 20th
century to start a fur-trapping industry, have recently been
targeted in New Zealand with escalating intensity because they are
believed to harbor endemic reservoirs of bovine tuberculosis, much
like badgers in Britain and Ireland.
Similar spraying on the North Island brought 170 protesters
to the Department of Conservation field office in Whakapapa in April
2002, led by Joss Richardson of the Ruapehu Action Group. They
brought with them dead birds supposed to have been protected by the
sprays but allegedly killed by Compound 1080 instead.
The major defenders of non-native wildlife in the mountainous
interior of the North Island are remote private landowners whose
chief concern seems to be keeping feral deer and pig populations to
hunt. Rising European demand for venison recently stimulated outside
hunter interest in shooting feral deer from helicopters and
airlifting out the carcasses. Residents of an area called White’s
Clearing in March 2002 responded by stringing wires across a popular
helicopter landing zone.
“At least two helicopters have been shot at in the area this
year, and numerous hunters have been confronted,” Jo-Marie Brown of
the New Zealand Herald reported on June 5, after a 46-year-old
Ruatahuna man was charged with disarming four helicopter passengers
Enviros favor killing aliens
Except for the Australian Wildlife Protection Council and
Arapawa Wildlife Sanctuary, the leadership of Down Under advocacy
groups for native wildlife now almost unanimously favors the
extirpation of non-native wild species by any means possible. This
in itself reflects a hardening of attitudes.
The Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia, for
instance, founded in 1909, has always emphasized protecting native
species, albeit without objection to hunting and trapping those who
are abundant. One early president was actually a fur dealer. The
Wildlife Preservation Society has also long favored extirpating
introduced wildlife. Yet the Wildlife Preservation Society
journal, Australian Wildlife, took a somewhat gentler tone than
recently during much of the 16-year editorial tenure of Vincent
Serventy, and his subsequent 36 years as president–if only,
perhaps, from hesitation to offend members and donors.
Under Patrick W. Medway, who succeeded Serventy as president
in February 2002, Australian Wildlife has become more overtly
hostile toward non-native wild species, including the feral dogs
called dingoes, who have roamed Australia for at least 20,000 years.
Australian Wildlife has also become downright combative toward any
critics of what is done to the non-natives, as it defines them,
including in the continuing contributions of Serventy himself.
The first edition of Australian Wildlife published since
Serventy retired ripped the Royal SPCA of Australia for making an
unsuccessful attempt to prosecute National Parks and Wildlife Service
personnel who shot 600 wild horses from the air in October 2000 at
Guy Fawkes National Park, New South Wales, and left them to die
slowly of their wounds. The charges were dismissed in early July
The Colong Foundation for Wilderness and the National Parks
Association of NSW promptly asked the NSW government to lift a
moratorium on shooting wild horses from the air, to expedite
anihilating the estimated 3,000 who inhabit the upper elevations of
Kosciuszco National Park, allegedly trampling and eating 21 rare
In the next edition of Australian Wildlife, Serventy and
Medway opposed environmentalists who objected to the use of the
poison Compound 1080 to kill dingoes and foxes in northern New South
Wales, including Kosciuszco National Park, the major purpose of
which was to prevent predation on domestic sheep. The strategy
includes trapping and radio-collaring 10 tiger quolls within the
Byadbo and Pilot Wilderness Area of Kosciuszco National Park to find
out whether they are “killed by aerially delivered poison balls.”
Compound 1080 is already known to kill tiger quolls who
ingest it in other forms.
The same edition of Australian Wildlife endorsed a scheme to
export the meat of feral camels to Islamic nations. Doing business
as the Central Australian Camel Industry Association, one Peter
Seidel in late June 2002 reportedly exported more than 100 camels
from Darwin to Saudi Arabia. An estimated 500,000 camels now roam
the Outback, descended from 10,000 imported from Palestine and India
as work animals between 1860 and 1907.
Under Medway, the Wildlife Preservation Society has so far
not been consistent in defense of native species, either. Just as
the British-based vegetarian advocacy group Viva! launched a boycott
of kangaroo leather soccer boots, coinciding with the World Cup
soccer tournament held in Japan and South Korea, Medway went on
television to advocate kangaroo culling and the use of kangaroo
leather for soccer boots.
A philosophically consistent position might endorse the view
of some Austalian environmentalists that the sheep industry should be
replaced entirely with a kangaroo industry. Kangaroo culling,
however, like killing dingoes and foxes, is mainly done to make
more grass available to sheep.
The pace of culling has intensified in recent months because
of prolonged drought in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and
“We have friends who are going out with rifles each evening
and shooting kangaroos because they are eating all the grass,” sheep
farmer Vikki Gibling of Gulargambone, New South Wales, told Nick
Squires of the London Sunday Telegraph.
“Another farmer found that emus were eating all the grain he
was putting down for his sheep. He rounded up a big herd, shot
them, and burnt them,” Gibling added.
Paucity of predators
Replacing sheep with kangaroos on the 42,000-hectare
Puckapunyal army base in Victoria state recently brought calamity,
in an experiment seemingly designed to fail, because it included no
brake on the kangaroo population beyond starvation and disease.
Dingoes and foxes, who prey on kangaroos, had already been
extirpated to protect the sheep. Neither were the kangaroos subject
to culling for commercial
slaughter like a sheep herd.
After the sheep were removed in 1999, the kangaroo
population leaped from 47,640 to 81,175 in just two years. Eventually
the kangaroos spread to neighboring farms, whose predator control
efforts continued to keep dingoes and foxes off the base. The
Australian army responded by fencing the kangaroos in, leading to a
situation that Royal SPCA of Australia president Hugh Wirth
eventually called the most “appalling situation for animals that we
have seen in 30 years.” Still without predators, the kangaroos
continued to breed, despite expert estimates that they had already
reached twice the maximum population density that Puckapunyal could
sustain. By May 2002, many were verifiably starving, and they
numbered up to 100,000.
As the kangaroos again invaded nearby farms, breaching the
fence, sharpshooters were hired to kill 15,000. Another 25,000
were scheduled to be shot later in 2002.
The hides and carcasses are not being sold, in potential
competition with the market for sheep byproducts. Hides and meat are
a lucrative byproduct of kangaroo culling elsewhere in Australia,
where the current kangaroo quota is 6.9 million, but Victoria state
does not allow commercial exploitation of native wildlife.
As debate explodes over whether or not to permit the sale of
culled kangaroo hides and meat, no one even appears to be mentioning
that what the kangaroos really need, to keep an ecologically
appropriate population balance, are dingoes and foxes in the numbers
that the prey abundance permit.
Between the opposition of the sheep industry and that of
native wildlife advocates like Medway, Serventy, and the Wildlife
Preservation Society of Australia, introducing “non-native” kangaroo
predators would be politically unviable.
Instead, Victoria state on July 1, 2002 introduced a bounty
of $10 per tail on foxes. Hunters turned in 8,227 tails during the
first week of the program and 25,000 through the first month,
thereby practically guaranteeing resurgences of the kangaroo,
rabbit, mouse, and rat populations.
Introducing native kangaroo predators to Australia, if one
considers dingoes to be non-native, would be impossible, since the
only large native Australian terrestrial predator, the marsupial
thylacene, was officially extirpated from the mainland before 1900,
and has been officially extinct since the last documented member of
the species died at the now defunct Hobart Zoo in Tasmania in 1936.
Sporadic claims of sightings have emerged from remote parts Tasmania
since then, along with at least two inconclusive video clips, but
if any do survive, they might be jeopardized by deployments of
Compound 1080 meant to eradicate foxes.
Seemingly oblivious to the controversy over poisoning tiger
quolls with Compound 1080 in Kosciuszco National Park, NSW,
Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment zoologist
Sally Bryant insisted to Brett Stubbs of the Hobart Mercury in June
2002 that the poison drops in Tasmania would not affect tiger quolls
and Tasmanian devils.
“We are confident that the dosages of 1080 that are put into
our baits are far, far less concentrated that what is needed to kill
a native species,” Bryant said. “One bait with a dose of 1080 is
enough to kill a fox, but an eastern quoll would need to eat three
or four a night to get a lethal dose, and a devil would need 13 to
Her assurance was enough to win the endorsement of the
Tasmanian Conservation Trust, but not that of Malamute breeder
Claire Macfarlane, who lost her fourth-generation prize female
Mooshi to a 1080 bait allegedly put out by a cattle rancher to kill
Amid the controversy over 1080 use was doubt as to whether
there are still any foxes in Tasmania, after past purges.
Disability pensioner Eric Bosworth, 51, touched off the present fox
extermination campaign when he claimed to have shot a fox on
September 13, 2001, and produced the remains 10 days later.
Bosworth mistakenly thought he was eligible for a reward of $5,000
offered by a hunting magazine, but the offer had been withdrawn. A
necropsy found that the dead fox had eaten native Tasmanian prey.
Fox tracks and scat were found at two other locations,
according to government fox task force manager Terry Reid, but state
senator Shayne Murphy, an independent, released to media
correspondence among police and other public officials casting doubt
on the validity of the evidence.
While Tasmania tries to kill foxes, whether they exist or
not, the New Zealand Department of Conservation, Auckland Regional
Council, and Kawau Island Pohutukwa Trust have embarked on a
three-year effort to eradicate an estimated 4,500 to 8,500
brush-tailed wallabies, introduced from the Australian mainland in
1870. A few will be captured alive, for export to zoos and to help
replenish the depleted population of their original habitat, in the
Blue Mountains, west of Sidney. The remainder will be poisoned.
Pohutukwa Trust founder Ray Weaver indicated to Anne Beston
of the New Zealand Herald in March 2002 that about 90% of the funding
for the poisoning would come from private property owners, who
consider them a pest.
Back in Sydney, there seems to be more excitement recently
about an estimated 15,000 protected silver gulls nesting on Cockatoo
Island and pooping on outdoor restaurant-goers than about the decline
of wallabies. Clamor to cull the gulls rose in May 2002 after a
report by Ian Tenby of Deakin University in Melbourne attributed
millions of dollars worth of damage per year to their highly acidic
Objected Birds Australia conservation manager Michael Weston,
to Peter Munro of the Sydney Morning Herald, “It is not as if they
are evil by nature and have decided to wage a waste war. They are
more a part of Australian beach culture than a guy on a surfboard.”
That does not mean the silver gulls are not at risk of being
labeled “alien” and “invasive” to rationalize killing them.
Grey-headed flying foxes are not only native to Australia but also
federally listed as vulnerable to extinction. Yet the Royal Botanic
Gardens in Melbourne managed to kill 12,000 of a resident population
of 20,000 in 2001, arguing that the flying foxes were not found in
large numbers in Melbourne before 1983.
The Royal Botanic Gardens flying fox colony was eventually
federally protected. In June 2002, however, the Australian
Research Center for Urban Ecology, based at the Botanic Gardens,
found a new way to attack the presence of the flying fox colony:
instead of asserting that the flying foxes are non-native, the
argument now is that their habitat is alien, created by the planting
of 315,000 trees native to New South Wales and Queensland many years
ago to shade Melbourne-area streets.
Anything animals do that costs anyone money can become a
pretext for killing them, and almost any government expenditure on
alternative strategies may be politically vulnerable in the present
Economic hard times are even hardening attitudes toward
koalas, the teddy-bear-like marsupials who to much of the world
symbolize Australia. Struggling on the mainland, koalas were
introduced to Kangaroo Island, north of Adelaide, in 1923, with
the idea in mind that the island might form a sort of Noah’s Ark for
the species. Koalas are still struggling to survive on the mainland,
where their preferred habitat has tended to conflict with
development, or lies in the paths of forest fires, and they are
notoriously often roadkilled.
The Kangaroo Island koala population has reportedly increased
from 5,000 as of 1996 to an estimated 27,000 to 33,000, however,
and Adelaide University ecologist David Paton and Nature Conservation
Society of South Australia president Robert Brandle now argue that at
least 20,000 koalas should be killed. Sterilizing 3,700 koalas since
1996 and relocating 1,380 to the mainland has not been cost-effective
in bringing about a population decline, they say, although the
sterilization and relocation efforts have never been big enough to be
reasonably expected to produce visible results.
The South Australia state Wildlife Advisory Committee agreed
in October 2001 that, “Continuing to adopt the soft approach of
sterilization and translocation may well establish a precedent in
wildlife management that is not in the best interests of
conservation. The committee believes that these high-cost management
options are driven by socio-economic and tourism needs rather than
sound ecological management and conservation principles.”
Translation: admitting the validity of any nonlethal
wildlife management approach could weaken public support for the
lethal approaches that traditional wildlife managers favor.
Tests of a contraceptive vaccine that could provide a
nonlethal alternative to culling the Kangaroo Island koalas are
underway at the Marsupial Cooperative Research Centre on Snake
Island. Versions of the vaccine based on a protein from brush
possums are reportedly not preventing pregnancy, but versions based
on a protein from pigs are “promising,” MCRC director David Kay told
Melbourne Herald-Sun environment reporter Sarah Hudson in late July
The experiment is opposed, however, by Australian Koala
Foundation executive director Deborah Tabart, in part because up to
15 of the 30 koalas in the test group will be killed and necropsied
to ensure that the vaccine was the reason why they did not conceive.
“White Australia” resurges
Medway, Serventy, and the Wildlife Preservation Society of
Australia, like other native wildlife advocacy groups in Australia
and New Zealand, may merely take their cue from the increasingly
xenophobic national moods.
Indeed, recent Australian Wildlife commentaries about human
population growth have been downright restrained compared with the
editorial pages of some major newspapers and speeches of leading
politicians. Amid a tide of denunciations of Asian immigration,
Australian Wildlife pointed out, for instance, that Great Britain
and New Zealand still send 13 times as many immigrants to Australia
as China sends.
Australian prime minister John Howard and the Labor Party won
re-election in November 2001, despite a slumping economy, after
taking an even harsher position against illegal immigration by Asian
refugees than was urged by opponents.
The issue came to a head in August 2001, after a leaky
Norwegian freighter, The Tampa, rescued 421 refugees from a sinking
Indonesian ferry off Christmas Island, an Australian possession
where they were believed to be hoping to make an illegal landing. As
the refugees were picked up in Indonesian waters, Australia forced
The Tampa to head on to New Zealand, and then New Zealand sent the
refugees on to Nauru, a remote Pacific atoll.
Reported Grant Holloway of CNN, “For a country whose
European settlement was pioneered 213 years ago by a fleet of
decrepit boats carrying the human cargo of an English penal
colony–and prides itself on its relaxed, multicultural society–the
The popularity of the Howard position remained high after
another 356 would-be immigrants to Australia drowned in the Java Sea
on the night of October 21. There were 65 survivors–21 who were
dropped off on an island when they demanded to leave the ship before
it sank, and 44 found alive by fishing vessels the next morning.
Then, on the eve of the election, two women were killed and
160 would-be immigrants were rescued by Australian Navy and Customs
Service vessels, after another Indonesian ship, the Sumbar Lestari,
ignored warnings to turn back, caught fire, and sank as some of the
passengers tried to fight off a boarding party.
Accordingly to Grant Holloway, the Australian Navy said “the
asylum seekers deliberately destroyed the vessel to prevent the Navy
returning it to Indonesian waters. The incident came as accusations
flew over whether the government misled the public in claiming that
an earlier boatload of asylum seekers deliberately threw their
children overboard in order to blackmail the Navy into taking them to
Australia. Conflicting claims from Australian naval officers suggest
no such actions occurred. A Navy video that the government earlier
said supported the child-throwing claims proved inconclusive,
although it did clearly indicate the boat was distressed and sinking,
and that those on board had to abandon ship.”
Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser called the
government claims overtly false.
Thirty years after the “White Australia” policy was
dismantled, which from 1945 to 1973 virtually prohibited
non-Caucasian immigration, some minor political parties with elected
representatives still advocate restoring it.
Their rhetoric is at times almost indistinguishable from that
of spokesmen for eradicating non-native species– which are often
identified by name with the places whose human immigrants Australians
tend to find most threatening.
“Certainly reports from areas where they come from in Africa
and southern Asia indicate that they will form very large
populations,” a Western Australia state agriculture department
official explained recently of his hope of eradicating Indian
Australian National University scientists a few weeks earlier
offered parallel reasons for introducing a species-specific method of
trapping and gassing Indian mynahs. Brought in 1862 to eat
crop-damaging insects, the ancestors of the mynahs arrived with
Indian immigrant laborers.
The most openly xenophobic and bioxenophobic of all prominent
Australian wildlife advocates is probably John Wamsley. Known for
his catskin cap, boasting of killing his neighbor’s cat at age 10,
and outspoken denunciations of all feral wildlife, also espousing
misanthropic views of humanity, Wamsley claims to have achieved
unparalleled success at breeding rare marsupials by completely
clearing their captive habitat of non-native flora and fauna.
Whether or not Wamsley’s results have been as unique and
spectacular as he says, however, is disputed by some mainstream
In 2000 Wamsley declared his intention of showing up all
rivals and critics by founding Earth Sanctuaries, a 10-site
for-profit eco-tourism venture. By February 2002, however, Earth
Sanctuaries was insolvent, and Wamsley resigned as managing
director, having refused to go nonprofit to avoid having to cater to
The Wamsley approach continues in concept, however, as in
April 2002 the Australian Wildlife Conservancy bought four of the
biggest Earth Sanctuaries, enabling Wamsley and his wife Proo Geddes
to try to regroup and continue with several of the smaller sites,
closer to population centers and more likely to attract tourists.
Not yet demonstrated is that xenophobia in any form can be
successfully combined with ecotourism.
There are signs that some thinking people Down Under outside
the animal advocacy community are beginning to question the promotion
of violence toward non-native wildlife. The New Zealand Herald on
June 15 shocked readers used to thinking of their nation as a bastion
of peace and harmony with a profile of the rural New Zealand hunting
culture, as viewed by British newspaper correspondent Kathy Marks,
who now lives in Sydney, Australia.
“New Zealand is a nation hooked on blood sports,” wrote
Marks. “One million people–a quarter of the population–hunt,
fish, and shoot,” she continued, explaining that the hunters’
targets are almost exclusively introduced species. “Attitudes toward
animals are robustly unsentimental,” she added, ” and there is only
a tiny anti-blood sports lobby.”
Conversely, there may be thousands of youngsters like Teira Gill.
“With his blue eyes and curly blond hair, Teira Gill is a
picture of cherubic innocence,” observed Marks. “Suddenly he points
a toy gun at the visitor. ‘Bang! Bang!’ he declares. Just two years
old, Teira already knows what he wants to be when he grows up: a
pig hunter. He has experienced the thrill of the chase with his
father Jimmy. ‘He had his first kill before the age of one,’ says
his grandfather, Alan Gill. Jimmy Gill says, ‘He runs around the
house with his toy knife, stabbing the dog in the ear. He’s a
Later, Jimmy Gill beat a dog in Marks’ presence for chasing
a feral goat instead of a pig.
The Melbourne Age just one day later published and syndicated
a feature about a four-year study by Griffith University professor
Mark Dadds of children who lack empathy. His focus is “whether
children who are cruel to animals may be predisposed to commit
serious violent crimes as adults.” Dadds cited “kicking cane toads,”
encouraged by some native wildlife advocates, as an example of the
sort of behavior he is looking at.
Dozens of U.S. studies have long since linked violence toward
animals with violence toward humans, but Dadds is reportedly the
first Australian researcher to do such a study.
“We looked at the literature and there was a lot of evidence
that cruelty to animals seems to be a really reliable prognostic
factor for later violence in humans,” Dadds said.
That issue seems to concern Australians and New
Zealanders–and may be a starting point for reversing the
psychological catastrophe that Christine Townend believes has
befallen her homeland.