By Ned Makim
Poaching doesn't hurt anyone, does it?
There is a common refrain heard whenever a report surfaces of poachers being caught and punished: ‘what's the big deal, they were only hunting a few pigs…they were doing everyone a favour…you should be able to hunt where you want…’
Those sort of comments pop up every time poaching makes the news. It can feel as though there is a corner of pig hunting in Australia that is determined to make as many excuses for poaching as possible. Whether it's to cover their own actions, stick up for mates or out of blind ignorance, the result is potentially the same, it makes us all look suspect.
So, let's talk about poaching. What is it and who does it hurt anyway?
What is poaching?
Poaching is hunting outside the law. That might be hunting out of season, contrary to regulations or without permission.
And why poaching instead of ‘illegal hunting’? Well, legal pig hunters baulk at having hunting linked to anything illegal for fear of associating hunting with undesirable behaviour. It's the same as ‘drugs’. Using drugs is automatically seen as a negative and yet drugs save millions of lives every year. Legal drugs are provided by doctors and companies to enhance our health. People use other legal drugs for recreation and are not necessarily seen as undesirables. Indeed alcohol use is pushed as a great joy, despite being responsible for deaths, violence and family breakdowns.
So, it's illegal drugs that are actually seen as the problem but the differentiation between illegal and legal drugs is lost in the colloquial usage. Drugs means bad.
Pig hunters don't want hunting seen the same way.
So, there is hunting and there is poaching...
In the pig hunting world poaching tends to mean hunting without permission on land you are not authorised to access. It might be on private land or public land but the issue is always the lack of express permission.
So, hunting off a public road and then into public or private land is poaching.
Jumping the fence into a neighbouring block of land is poaching.
Hunting stock routes is poaching.
Hunting public land without legal permission, is poaching.
There is no ‘free’ hunting anywhere in Australia. All land is owned either by individuals, families, companies or the government. It is all owned and there are rules about access.
It doesn't matter whether or not someone agrees with the rules. They exist and breaching them is a legal issue which can attract significant penalties and those penalties are always under review.
But it is not the threat of penalties that should be foremost in pig hunters minds. There is a bigger price to pay and I'll get to that later…
Isn't poaching a victimless crime?
That’s what poachers and their apologist mates say.
‘It doesn't hurt anyone.’
‘We’re doing (whomever) a favour.’
‘They’re only pigs, what's it matter. We should be able to hunt them…’
It's sometimes hard to know whether those sorts of arguments are genuinely held beliefs or those who hold them are too stupid to think beyond their own immediate urge to chase a pig.
For the sake of this discussion we’ll assume they are legitimately held beliefs. The stupid will just have to fend for themselves.
'It doesn't hurt anyone'
Bullshit. Set aside the poaching that includes cutting fences, stealing fuel ruining farm tracks. On private land there are those who have to deal with the stress of people they don't know coming onto their land without permission for purposes that aren't always clear. The poacher might think it's just a matter of catching a pig and going but for the woman and children in the house, lights, dogs, rifles and alcohol might represent an entirely different thing. What's the difference between that and the poacher arriving home to find a farmer and his mates parked in the poacher's backyard having a few drinks and looking around the shed? Why do poachers believe it is fine to scare women and children?
(If you think that's a stretch, you are wrong. It has already been identified as an issue in a study done by the University of New England in NSW. And further, the sense of threat and intimidation felt by some rural women in these situations is one of the big drivers of potential law reform underway in that state.
Read about it for yourself:
On public land there is always someone who has to clean up the issue. There are legal users of public land, hunters and others. There are workers. There are researchers. Everyone of these can be affected negatively by unmanaged hunting. Poachers choose not to think about their impact on others.
It is all about doing what they want without any regard for its impact on others.
They are by nature liars, lying to others and to themselves.
‘We're doing (whomever) a favour'
No you aren't. A poacher isn't helping anyone, they are doing it out of selfish disregard for everyone else. A legal hunter has a role in pig control through regular liaison with the landholder. Understanding a landholders’ objectives helps a legal hunter have an impact. Fitting in with access requirements helps landholders (public and private) meet their objectives. Poaching utterly disregards these objectives and diverts resources and attention from those objectives to the management of those who think they have a right to chase a pig wherever that pig might be.
‘They’re only pigs, what's it matter. We should be able to hunt them…’
It can matter for a whole lot of reasons. There are ethical considerations. There are Biosecurity implications. There are environmental considerations.
But if you don't understand nor care for any of those think about this:
Hunting might be practised by (for example) 20 per cent of the population. At the other end of the scale (for example) 20 per cent of people might hate hunting and hunters and what us banned. In the middle are the 60 per cent of people who actually determine what happens. If hunting loses the respect and support of those 60 per cent, it is all over.
The anti hunters know this and they are committed, well funded and smart. They don't talk to us. They talk to the 60 per cent.
Every poacher may as well be paid by the anti hunting movement because that's who they benefit.
Every poacher is stealing our future access.
Every incident that suggests hunters can't be trusted is another nail in our coffin.
The ‘Do-a-bits’ as one bloke I respect calls them (because they are forever approaching him at servos when they see his dog crate and/or dogs and asking ‘do a bit do ya?’) often don't understand the concept of poaching.
They also often don't understand the concept of longevity.
Despite some proclaiming themselves ‘piggers for life’ the vast majority of pig hunters aren't in it for life. They do it while they are young and energetic but drop out once, marriage, kids, mortgages, jobs and the rest of life surfaces.
As a consequence many don't care about the future of dogging pigs. They care about it while it's easy for them. And those same people, the ones who poach, don't care if we are consigned to the rubbish bin of history.
The same group crow that no one will ever stop them hunting.
Pig hunting with dogs can be made illegal at the stroke of a pen. Depending on how that pen is used it can also be an enforceable ban.
Through my work within the public service, as a professional animal controller and the Australian Pig Doggers and Hunters Association I can tell you it is a simple thing to achieve.
I don't propose to go into the details here but I will mention something that already exists in law in NSW.
Did you realise that all hunting dogs, and I mean ALL hunting dogs are by law classed as dangerous dogs? The NSW Companion Animals Act already lists all hunting dogs as dangerous, so that means anyone with a photo of their dog with a pig, on Facebook, on a website, in their phone, wherever can be the subject of a dog control order that will costs thousands of dollars in compliance or the dog's life. Under law it is a hunting dog therefore it is dangerous. The law exists and it is only a matter of the community asking for it to be enforced.
There are two other steps which would slot into this situation that would end pig dogging as we know it and those steps have already been discussed at government level. And this applies to all States and Territories in Australia.
Every poacher brings us one step closer.
If you still think poaching doesn't matter, think again.