Wayne Turale and his hunting mates have their binoculars glued to distant moving shapes, and low-level excitement is in the air. Yet, there is not a single gun among them, and it is not potential game they have spotted.
- Hunters are helping wildlife affected by bushfires, by feeding them grain and carrots
- Vegetation has been slow to regrow due to extreme winter conditions
- Hunters say they are motivated by a love of native animals
A mother wombat and her joey are ambling across a far hill and the hunters are visibly pleased.
“When I spotted that female with her young I got pretty excited because it’s unusual to see them at that time of day,” Mr Turale, who is the coordinator of his hunting group, said.
“Without question that mother and her young had been eating the food we’ve been distributing there.”
Mr Turale was referring to the pellets, carrots and apples that the group had been feeding out to native animals on Tasmania’s Central Plateau for the past few months.
Wallabies displaced by bushfire on Tasmania’s Central Plateau eat grain and carrots distributed by volunteers. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Sarah Abbott)
Fire has ‘extreme’ affect on wildlife
The hunters joined a program dedicated to helping the wildlife affected by a bushfire that raged across the area earlier this year.
The fire began in the World Heritage Area with a lightning strike on January 15, and Mr Turale said it was the largest fire the Central Highlands had ever seen.
“It burned out hundreds of thousands of acres of ground,” he said.
“The impact it’s had on our browsing and grazing animals has been extreme.”
The bushfires had a devastating impact upon the landscape. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Sarah Abbott)
Mr Turale said the fire displaced many of the native animals that lived in the area, destroying their food sources and available shelter.
On top of that, the fire “couldn’t have happened at a worse time”, he said.
It struck when many of the native animals’ young, usually born in summer, were still very small and at least partly dependent on their mothers for milk.
“Then we had winter coming on immediately after that,” Mr Turale said.
And it was a winter that hit unusually early and hard.
“We haven’t had a winter … when we’ve had as much snow as early as this for some time now,” Mr Turale said.
“Just on Friday night here we had -5 degrees Celsius, and when you’ve got that extremely cold weather … you don’t get any plant growth,” he said.
Mr Turale said the extreme weather meant it would be slow for food and shelter to regrow for the affected wildlife.
“The winter is going to make it very, very difficult for a lot of our native animals that are caught in certain areas that have been damaged by this fire,” he said.
A young wallaby endures winter without the food and shelter usually provided by shrubs on Tasmania’s Central Plateau. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Sarah Abbott)
Motivated by ‘love’ for native wildlife
For Mr Turale, a feeling of wanting to help these animals translated into action in March.
“I became aware of a program that was started with donations of wildlife food to be distributed in certain areas in the highlands here to sustain our native animals through the winter,” he said.
Interested in becoming involved, Mr Turale rang around his hunting friends to suggest they join him.
“Everybody jumped at it and wanted to be involved as soon as they could,” he said.
“We soon organised a roster of men and women … to be involved in a feeding program in some of these more remote locations that can’t be accessed other than by walking.”
At their vehicles the hunters each loaded their backpacks with 20-kilogram bags of pellets, and they hiked together to predetermined locations.
Mr Turale said members of this group were well suited to the task due to their “intimate knowledge” of the terrain and local topography acquired through hunting deer.
“We play a big role in keeping the numbers [of deer] to an acceptable level, and certainly keeping them out of areas where they shouldn’t be, including the World Heritage areas,” he said.
Mr Turale said he and his fellow hunters felt “intrinsically connected” to the region.
“The people that I associate with — both men and women — all of us have a very strong connection to our environment outside and the reason we do is because we spend so much time out there,” he said.
Debra and Sam Crow look out for wildlife with their children. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Sarah Abbott)
It is that connection, according to Mr Turale, that has lead the hunters to want to take care of what they see as their own backyard.
“We [recreational hunters] all feel personally that we’ve got a responsibility to look after our environment and our native animals, and we take that seriously,” he said.
“I’ve had people say to me, ‘Why would you guys want to be doing that? We didn’t think you’d be interested in that’. But I just don’t get that.
“Some people think it’s weird that hunting and conservation can go hand in hand but if you look at it, hunters and anglers are some of the best conservationists.
“Conservation is a key factor in us doing what we do [as hunters].”
Mr Turale said he struggled to understand why people would be surprised at his group’s involvement in the rescue program, or think hunters were indifferent to animals.
“I just couldn’t understand that people would think like that … that we wouldn’t want to be involved,” he said.
“I guess some people are surprised, but to us it’s just ABC; none of us thought it was anything unusual because … we’re so connected to wildlife and we love animals.
“We will do what we can … to take care of the animals in the bush that we love so much.”