Acclimatisation Societies – Will we ever learn?

Do you like going to the zoo? I do! I’m even a Zoos Victoria member! It’s a good day out and you can learn a lot. Melbourne Zoo is world class. Melbourne Zoo’s origins though are a bit dodgy, at least by 21st century standards anyway.

In 1861 a private collector named Edward Wilson, whose motto was ‘if it lives, we want it’, founded The Victorian Acclimatisation Society. It was this Society that began Melbourne Zoo as a place to keep animals they brought from overseas, notably England. The animals were kept there to prepare them for release into the Australian bushland. (Reference The Victorian Acclimatisation Society)

The whole idea of introducing foreign species into the Australian bush was very popular during the 1800s and early 1900s. His Excellency Sir Henry Barkly was appointed governor of Victoria in 1856. Addressing the first meeting of the Victorian Acclimatisation Society he was applauded when he announced plans to release monkeys into Victoria’s eucalypt forests for the purpose of amusing weary travellers. Fortunately for us, he was replaced by Governor Darling who did not like monkeys and squashed the plan. However, Darling was in favour of releasing boa constrictors to rid the bush of venomous snakes, something which fortunately did not take place either. Feral Future: The Untold Story of Australia’s Exotic Invaders by Tim Low (page 30). Unfortunately many species did get in. Nothing needs to be written about the disastrous consequences of the introduction of cats, foxes, rabbits, blackbirds, sparrows, indian mynas and starlings, not to mention plants such as blackberries and prickly pear. The list is enormous.

There are other species too that we do not think of as being feral. The First Fleet brought with it 7 cattle, 7 horses and 29 sheep. By the end of the 1860s these had become 4 million cattle, 300 000 horses and over 20 million sheep. No one thought about domesticating what was already here. Still, that was in the olden days when people didn’t understand about ecology wasn’t it?

With all we now know, this wouldn’t happen again today would it? picture in the Public Domain

What do you think of the two 21st century suggestions below? Do they show that we have learned the lessons of the past?

  • The Shooters and Fishers Party of New South Wales (formerly The Shooters Party) introduced the Game and Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill 2009. Among other changes, they want to legalise the release of game animals (feral animals) on “licensed private game reserves” for the “purpose of hunting the animal”. (See Schedule 1 [27]) These animals include: Deer, California Quail, Guinea Fowl, Partridge, Peafowl, Pheasant and Turkey. The Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities informs us through its publication, Feral Deer, “Deer were introduced into Australia from Europe in the 19th century as game animals. Today, they occupy many areas throughout Australia and cause a variety of environmental problems.” Despite this awareness, the Government itself is considering allowing more ferals to be introduced!
  • In 2011 Department of Sustainability and Environment stocking program released into Victorian waters 306,714 rainbow trout, 372,913 brown trout and 16,005 Atlantic salmon. These fish were bred for release at the Government funded Snobs Creek facility to cater for recreational fishing. Trout are a predatory fish and are not native to Australia. Brown trout from England and rainbow trout from California were introduced in the 1800s with devastating effects on many native species. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority, a Government Department, informs the public through its Alien Fish Facts Sheets “As with Rainbow trout, Brown trout has had a serious impact on the distribution and abundance of south-east Australia’s native galaxiids, such as Mountain galaxias and Barred galaxias. Brown trout is suspected of having deleterious impacts on Trout cod and Macquarie perch and a number of other threatened native species. Trout species are also thought to impact on a number of threatened frogs, such as the spotted tree frog (Litoria spenceri).” Despite this awareness, the Government itself is supporting the release of even more feral trout!

So what do you think? Have we learned our lesson about Acclimatisation Societies?

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