The rights of ‘traditional owners’ to hunt protected species is being scrutinized in Australia after horrific video of killings emerged.
The video shows sea turtles and dugongs being butchered alive and others left tethered for days without shade or water.
The footage shown on ABC Australia (watch below) also said that meat gathered by some indigenous communities in the Torres Strait islands, off North Queensland, was being sold on the black market. Traditional owners have the right to harvest turtle and dugong and share the meat and eggs with their families on the mainland. There are claims that rangers employed to police hunting were engaged in this trade.
Under the 1993 Native Title Act, indigenous Australians have the right to hunt protected species for their own subsistence and ceremonial purposes. However, they are limited to hunting in their own country and it must not be for commercial gain.
However, John Kris, the chairman of the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA), told The Australian that the TV report was emotive and unbalanced and failed to mention the efforts made by local indigenous communities to sustainably manage traditional hunting and to find more humane ways of processing the meat.
“We have been seeking solutions, but the experts simply can’t agree on acceptable procedures,” Kris said. “People also have to appreciate, as in other seafarer cultures, meat has been processed this way for thousands of years.”
The hunting has become an issue in the current election campaign in the state of Queensland.
“It’s unfortunate that good and innovative work done by indigenous communities has been overshadowed by emotive and unbalanced coverage clearly scheduled to gain political leverage during the Queensland election campaign,” Kris said.
Others have pointed out that the hunting is not the cause of a decline in the dugong population. Instead, the damage done to seagrass beds by a major cyclone as well as huge flooding and increased sea traffic and pollution due to the Queensland mining boom are to blame. Some indigenous communities have suspended taking dugong because of the impact of the natural disasters.
The rights of indigenous communities to hunting has come under fire elsewhere, such as a current controversy over a license for a Native American tribe to kill two bald eagles and hunting of polar bears by Inuit.
The Queensland government has promised an inquiry.
Watch ABC Australia report. Warning: it contains disturbing images.
Photo from Timmmmmmm via flickr