Feral deer numbers are increasing rapidly throughout Victoria and around Australia. The Dandenongs are no exception. To some it is a problem, but what problem? They’re beautiful, shy, sweet little creatures grazing innocently at the bottom of someone else’s paddock. Some even think they are native. To others it’s a case of another row of fruit trees ringbarked, more fences damaged, paddocks eaten, an insurance claim on a car written off, having to replant garden beds or losing the veggie garden. We do have a deer problem and they are gradually destroying our environment, encroaching on and damaging farms, private property and becoming a dangerous nuisance on our roads.
It is true that deer mean no harm. They are not here by choice but they are not native. The amount of damage they are doing to our local ecosystem is considerable. From the destruction of the shrubs and lower canopy (needed for protection and nesting of small birds), to the ringbarking and death of taller trees by rutting males (loss of food for gliders, future nesting sites and canopy protection preventing weed overgrowth), to creation of bogs from their wallowing (destroying moist habitat for frogs) and damage to river banks and muddying the waters of local creeks (affecting river crustaceans, water rats and platypuses.) It is not their intention to do this harm but it is simply what happens when an animal such as a deer comes into a habitat which has not evolved defences for this type of assault.
Why are they here and where did they come from? The original importation of deer was in 1861 by the new colonies’ Acclimatization Society, about whom it has been written that “there was never a body of men so foolishly, so vigorously and so disastrously wrong”. At the time and in the ensuing years they imported European carp, sambar deer, starlings, sparrows, rabbits, foxes, blackbirds, blackberries, thistles, etc. It was founded by Edward Wilson whose motto was “if it lives, we want it.” We can thank our lucky stars they didn’t import lions and tigers.
Numbers of deer stayed relatively low until the commercial rise and collapse of deer farms between the 1970s and 1990s, when many deer either escaped or were deliberately released as many farms went broke. This period also coincided with an increase in hunters deliberately and illegally releasing them into “deer free” areas (especially Fallow, Red and Chital species). Together these activities are considered responsible for over 90% of current deer populations in Australia.
Deer are now recognised by the Invasive Species Council as “probably Australia’s worst emerging pest problem.” In our area, the two main species are sambar and fallow. Anecdotally the numbers in the past decade have skyrocketed and it is thought they are still nowhere near the potential maximum numbers. This means the problem is likely to get much worse.
So how do we address the issue of feral deer in a populated Australian landscape? The answer at this stage seems to be that no-one really knows. It is generally recognised that shooting by well qualified hunters is the most humane way of killing deer in the wild. For some in the community, that is not humane enough. It may be that trapping and translocating could be a solution or applying biological controls. New research into DNA control is also a possibility, or a combination of methods may be required.
In August last year a well-attended community meeting was held in Upper Beaconsfield, with attendees coming from many local communities within the Cardinia Creek catchment and other outlying areas. The purpose of the meeting was to gauge the level of concern local land owners have for the escalating deer problem. The response was huge, more than filling the venue and there was an overwhelming desire in the community for action. As a result, a group was formed and called the Cardinia Deer Management Coalition with a mission to “Connect community to preserve Cardinia catchment biodiversity through humane deer reduction.”
In October last year the state government released their draft Deer Management Strategy for public comment. This document has received heavy criticism from many as being more interested in protecting the interests of hunters rather than in its stated intent of controlling feral deer, despite admitting they are a serious concern. Perhaps the most contentious issue was the failure of the strategy to recommend changing the classification of deer from that of ‘protected species’ to that of ‘pest animal’.
Deer in our environment and community are already a serious issue. The laws surrounding controlling deer are complex and the solutions to the problem, though evolving, are currently few. The Cardinia Deer Management Coalition are holding a community meeting in Emerald to inform residents of the current state of affairs, to give residents a forum to ask questions and raise concerns and to discuss the way forward. There will be a number of guest speakers representing various interest groups opening the meeting followed by a Q and A and Open Forum. All members of the community concerned about this issue are encouraged to attend.
Community Meeting – Deer and Our Environment
7:30pm Wednesday February 13th
Emerald Community House Hall
If you would like to know more about the Cardinia Deer Management Coalition, please contact us on:
Cardinia Deer Management Coalition