Oh, deer! Enough of this!
| Early morning in a Bundeena street, the light not good, wintry cold, road a bit slippery, car moving briskly, the driver turns on the heater - "Look out! A deer."
The car swerves but hits the deer and lurches into a parked Falcon utility.
The car is a write-off. The ute severely damaged, at least $25,000 to be claimed. The driver, fortunate, emerges in one piece.
'DEER CAUSE ACCIDENT', says the media reporting that particular incident in Scarborough Street, Bundeena on Monday 29 June. But this is no isolated case. Ask the police or the National Park Rangers - there are similar accidents every week.
Deer are running rampant in the Royal, over a thousand of them, and breeding rapidly. They've also spread into neighbouring Heathcote National Park and herds have been sighted further south along the Illawarra Escarpment.
But isn't this our precious Royal National Park, first and most reverenced of all Australia's national parks? Indeed it is. But who cares?
In the early days no-one knew the damage the deer would do. A few were released into the Royal in its very first decade, in 1885. Since then others have been added, some five different species, with the Rusa from Java adapting most successfully (they are now by far the dominant species).
How much damage do they do? The threat to humans, through car crashes, is purely incidental.
Each deer eats 2-3 kilos of plants a day. So the present 1000+ deer are destroying over a thousand tonnes a year. Not just any plants. The deer prefer the younger, smaller, struggling plants which are vital to bush regeneration. Especially so after bushfires, which are all too frequent.
When the appalling 1994 bushfire destroyed over 90 per cent of the Royal, many areas struggled delicately to regenerate - and the deer retarded them tragically.
Their hard hooves trample young plants. They cause soil erosion on steep slopes when plant life struggles to bind the sandy soil together. The bucks fight boisterously in the mating months from July to November, rampaging through the new springtime growth. And the bucks hone their antlers on tree trunks, tearing off bark and sometimes ringbarking trees.
Many homes that border the Royal suffer invasion, with damage to gardens and fences.
Worst of all is the overall effect on the Park; that is, the damage to the ecosystem , what survives of the original unspoiled state. What the deer eat and physically destroy - every bit of it - is at the expense of the native fauna/flora ! To give just one example: Park rangers want to restore the Grey Kangaroo to the area, but are restrained from doing so because the deer's diet is much the same as that of Kangaroo, and the competition would make life for the less prolific Kangaroo difficult. Moreover the non-native deer appear to harbour many diseases that they can transfer to some of the natives.
So the Royal's deer problem is large and is spinning out of any control that can be attempted by the sadly understaffed National Parks and Wildlife Service. It is a notable part of Australia's dreadful feral problem, which in the case of the Royal includes the destruction wrought by cats, foxes and dogs.
The continued existence of the deer in the Park is favoured by well-meaning people who do not understand the feral danger to our natives. They are backed by a dark force of shooters who illegally poach the animals (an erratic, unsupervised kind of "control" that can sometimes be unskilled and cruel).
The deer should be removed from the Park in a professional and humane way and taken to the now numerous commercial deer parks. Certainly the deer in themselves are lovely creatures; but so are the kangaroos, wallabies and other natives that the deer are displacing. And, yes, it's a difficult decision, but anything less fails the test of preserving our splendid Royal National Park in its native and sustainable state.
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