I read the recent promotion of duck shooting advertisement in the Herald on Sunday with disquiet. You see, I have always been one to stick up for the underdog (in this case the underduck). The duck certainly needs an ally. It’s not as if they can build trenches in the wetlands and shoot back at the hunters.
I’ll begin with a story. As with all good stories there are two sides. In this case there is the duck and the hunter. I am interested in the duck’s side. Let’s make this more personal and imagine two paradise ducks. They are endemic to New Zealand, but it is legal to shoot them during duck-shooting season, as long as you adhere to bag limits and have a permit.
The female duck is a beautiful chestnut with a pure white head. She partners for life with a male, who is dark grey with a black head. Visualise them, if you will, sleeping contentedly, their heads tucked beneath their wings awaiting the sunrise.
As the sun rises and they take to the air, the glint of the rays sparkling on water droplets clinging to their chestnut and dark grey feathers. And then a crack. Yelps of human joy as a one of the ducks falls wounded back to the water, her neck arching in spasms and her legs peddling awkwardly.
A splash as the hunter’s dog wades in to retrieve the hapless duck in her death throes. She is placed in a bag. The first of many on opening day, May 1, 2016.
I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the duck did not want to die, and will be mourned by her partner for the rest of his life.
But it’s all good fun isn’t it? It’s woven into the very cultural fabric of rural life. Duck hunters have planned for this, lived for it all year.
The opening of the duck hunting season is upon us again. Lights go on at campsites, hotels and houses even before sunrise. Jovial banter barely contains the mounting excitement and coffee flows freely amid the pre-dawn preparations for the day. Meanwhile, the silence of a nearby wetland shrouded in damp fog is eerie in its innocence.
As with all good stories there are two sides. In this case there is the duck and the hunter. I am interested in the duck’s side.
The duck shooters say that theirs is a cultural activity, a legitimate sport, an opportunity for an outing in the great outdoors with mates and family. By shooting ducks, they say, they limit populations and help to conserve and create ecosystems, and using “nature’s supermarket” to feed themselves.
Such is the logic of “environment management”-speak, that authoritative voice that declares humans can beat nature at her own game and somehow continue to destruct even while we created the problem of ecosystem and habitat loss in the first place.
Tom Biebighauser was quoted in the Timaru Herald as saying, “Over 95 per cent of the wetlands in New Zealand were drained or dried up. Now they are some of our rarest and most at-risk ecosystems”.
The remaining wetlands will favour species such as the mallard and paradise shelduck as these are more adaptable. People may be surprised to learn that three species of native duck are allowed to be slaughtered by duck shooters. This leads to further biodiversity loss.
We really need to step back and take a more holistic view of “environmental management”. We need to prioritise restoration of wetlands, rather than killing the ducks blamed for overpopulating the small amount of habitat left. It is a cruel sport, with one in four ducks not killed outright by the bullet but crippled, maimed or paralysed, and left to die a horrible death from wounds or starvation.
We’re better than this aren’t we?
Lynley Tulloch is a lecturer in education at the University of Waikato.