Northern Territory cattle producers are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock every year from illegal shooting by pet meaters and weekend hunters.
A number of managers of cattle stations within a few hours’ drive from Darwin say trespassers shoot hundreds of cattle and buffalo every year on their properties.
Cattle duffing has long been an issue in the Top End, but with the rise of both beef and buffalo prices over the last few years some pastoralists believe the problem is getting worse.
In 2017 the manager of Douglas Station, 180 kilometres south of Darwin, was finding at least two head of cattle or buffalo a week shot and stripped of meat on his property.
“Last year we were averaging about $1,000 for our cattle, so with two [shot] a week, there’s $100,000 a year [lost] that we know of,” Tony Hayne said.
“The pet meaters shoot cattle, horses and buffalo, bone them out and sell [the meat] in town.
“But being so close to Darwin we also get a lot of people from there who come and get killers [hunt]; they usually take the best of the cattle or the buffalo.”
Stations near highways worst hit
While for most cattle stations access to a good bitumen road is a boon, many within a few hundred kilometres of Darwin find the highways bring unwelcome visitors.
Ban Ban Springs Station manager Ty Blockland estimated $100,000 to $200,000 worth of cattle was illegally shot on the property over the last two years.
He said easy access from the Stuart Highway south of Adelaide River meant some hunters had been trespassing on the property for years, with one group even verbally attacking him when he confronted them in a paddock.
Mr Blockland said some hunters shot cattle and left the carcass on the ground so they could return several days later to shoot the pigs attracted by the rotting flesh.
He has also had locked gates pulled off their hinges and believes fires on the property have been deliberately lit by hunters.
Mary River East Station near Pine Creek has similar issues, with the winding Kakadu Highway allowing an easy means of entry to the property.
Owner Alan Fisher said pet meaters continually shoot his cattle and farmed buffalo, and believes those responsible are becoming more brazen.
Mr Fisher hasn’t put a figure on how many cattle and buffalo he has lost to illegal hunters but estimates it could cost him tens of thousands of dollars in lost stock every year.
The sheer size of many Northern Territory cattle properties mean some do not have their whole boundaries fenced and managers are not aware when people are trespassing.
Mr Hayne at Douglas Station said the property had too many access points for him to effectively monitor.
“We are pretty lucky, in one way, that we have about 300 kilometres of roads through the place, which is an asset but it also is a liability as far as everyone gaining access around the station and sneaking into different spots,” he said.
“We have pretty much a constant flow of pet meaters and hunters — they are always killing animals and lighting fires.”
Calls for stock squad in NT Police
The NT Cattleman’s Association has lobbied for the establishment of a dedicated stock squad within the NT Police for a number of years.
Opposition leader Gary Higgins’ electorate of Daly covers most of the cattle stations hardest hit by pet meaters and weekend hunters.
“To me that [a stock squad] is a resource we do need,” Mr Higgins said.
“[A stock squad] would have added benefits; it is not just doing that policing it is doing that communications and being able to relate to people.”
Tony Hayne has observed the Queensland stock squad during while working in the north of the state, and believes the model could operate in the NT.
“In north Queensland it is a similar situation to [the Top End], there are pretty large stations and cattle are spread out a fair bit,” Mr Hayne said.
“If there are problems on stations it is good to be able to talk to a policeman who understands the industry.”