By Ned Makim
How you can protect yourself and your lifestyle...
SOCIAL media has developed into a fantastic means for pig hunters throughout Australia and world wide to communicate and learn.
Hunters can share training tips, hunting tactics and buy and sell like never before.
But could social media such as Facebook and YouTube also be slowly boxing us into a corner from which we might not escape?
The strength of something such as Facebook, for example, also presents its greatest danger to legal pig hunting nationwide. Facebook offers a means for hunters to communicate in real time, complete with photos and videos and without a filter. It’s instant and it goes everywhere.
The danger is that lack of a filter. Some pages have varying degrees of filtration applied by the admins but it's time we all accepted that presenting the right image of our lifestyle is not someone else’s job, it’s a job each of us individually must take on. We need to be self managing and we need to help educate those near us in the real world and on Facebook to do the same.
Part of the issue with developing a common direction among pig hunters is that one of the attractions of our culture is to be independent and self sufficient. It's what makes pig hunting, pig hunting. However, while we like to live like that, the concept of a truely independent culture operating within Australia is a complete fantasy. Legal pig hunting can be squashed at the stroke of a pen. Using dogs to bail or hold a pig is already illegal in Victoria…
Legal pig hunters have to find the way to live in a modified culture, that allows for the rest of society’s concerns on animal welfare (for dogs and pigs), concerns about illegal activity by people masquerading as pig hunters, and concerns about wildlife protection.
A lot of time is wasted talking to or attacking anti hunters. Anti hunters are not the threat to us that many believe. The real threat is hunters themselves providing anti hunting groups with the ammunition they can use to prove their case to the great majority of the Australian public. It is the opinion of that majority that changes laws.
For example, environmentalists, as opposed to animal libbers, want pigs out of the Australian environment. So do public and private landholders and managers. However, there are a number of options people can use to do that.
There is baiting, trapping and shooting available in varying degrees for every pig problem in Australia.
Now, we know that even if all those control measures are applied, there will remain a core population of pigs that won't take a bait, won't trap and are in country too rough, thick or remote to shoot. Indeed, that is one of the reasons pig hunting with dogs is allowed at all.
But it is not enough on its own to counteract animal welfare fears than can be fuelled by one dumb post on Facebook.
Legal pig hunters argue that we are useful to the broader community in pest animal control. We also argue that hunting with dogs is a legitimate culture dating back thousands of years. Neither of those arguments will counter animal welfare concerns if the majority of the Australian public sees us as cruel, ignorant meatheads.
It's up to us to show the respect we have for our dogs, the animals we hunt and the land on which that hunting takes place.
So how do we achieve that on a social media platform such as Facebook?
Well here’s a quick guide to what works for us in Facebook posts:
• If you post a video of a pig being held, show how quickly you or your offsider got control of the pig and killed it. (Any video showing someone standing around watching a dog hold a pig provides evidence of cruelty and is actionable under law throughout Australia. The laws that do allow hunting pigs with dogs, all allow it on the basis that the pig is subjected to the minimum pain and distress necessary. Standing around cheering on your dog can and will land you in court.)
• Again if you post a video of dogs holding a pig, show how few dogs are needed to control the pig to allow for you to humanely kill the pig. (In NSW the guidelines are two dogs with an allowance for two pups in training. I can tell you having more than two dogs on a pig immediately attracts attention as potential animal cruelty. Arguing then that two 35kg extra dogs are pups in training will not stand up if the matter goes to court.)
• Same goes for holding photos. Some pages don't allow them at all because of the potential with misrepresentation by animal libbers. If the site you use allows it, consider not doing it anyway but if you do, be aware that anything that shows unnecessary pain and distress (as determined by, not you but, say a 30 year old lady drinking a coffee in inner city Melbourne) could land you in court.
• Think about how you show respect for the animal you have killed. Photos of the dead pig and you are upsetting to some outside our culture but are accurate representations of what we do and the size and danger of some of the animals with which we deal. (However, a photo of a boar with with his mouth propped open by a rum can for instance press buttons for even those who support us. A photo like that looks like we are drinking while hunting and making a joke of the animal we have hunted. That's how it is seen by the people who make the laws. Use a stick.)
• No photo or video of an injured dog is ever acceptable. Don't do it. If a dog is injured, take care of it properly. Do not stand around taking photos you are going to post on Facebook. There is a legitimate argument that taking a photo to send to your vet can help in the vet providing immediate first aid information or help the vet prepare for your arrival at the clinic but there is no argument to support publishing that photo on social media. If you think people are sensitive to the welfare of pigs, you should sit in on some of the meetings with lawmakers I attend and listen to their concerns about our dogs.
Some pig hunters resist these sort of guidelines because they either don't understand the potential implications or they don't care. The truth is that most pig hunters don't stay active in the culture beyond their 30s. Hunters are most active in the 18 to 32 age bracket.
I don't know about the rest of you but that period of my life was not the time I showed my best judgement or willingness to be told what to do. I get it. You want to hunt and enjoy it. But what you need to get is that even if you are going to drop out of the lifestyle when you lose fitness or access to hunt or work or family commitments suck up all your time, you still need to think longer term.
Stupid posts, videos and photos are not just seen by a couple of mates. Once they are on something like Facebook, they exist forever.
Every Facebook hunting site has anti hunters on it. They all also have police, departmental inspectors and lawyers. That's not a guess, I know that for a fact and I know some of the people whose job it is to trawl through Facebook watching what poachers and suspected poachers were doing.
I also know because I was one of those inspectors doing just that.
Sometimes the objective is to spot poaching evidence before or after it happens. Sometimes that objective stretches to issue of animal cruelty or simple evidence gathering to make a case that we legal hunters can't be trusted to manage ourselves.
The future of legal hunting is under constant threat in Australia. I have accepted the position of national president of the Australian Pig Doggers and Hunters Association to help direct the ongoing work of those working to fend of that threat.
The use and misuse of social media is one of the key elements in dealing with the challenge to our continued opportunity to live as we choose..
I'd love it if every legal hunter joined up to the APDHA to show how many people we really represent. But if you aren't ready to join or rejoin yet, at least help the cause by thinking about your use of social media and maybe educating those other hunters near you to do the same.