Australia’s gone to the dogs. Part 1.

Australia has gone to the dogs. The nation is one of the world’s major drivers of climate change and is decimating its native wildlife and ecology, and is thus becoming an international pariah. The current government controls its gullible population with marketing spin, and education levels continue to decline. A tiny fraction of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and natural disasters arrive one after the other. But all Australians seem to care about are their dogs. Dogs are everywhere – in parks, beaches and cafes, and even public transport and libraries. This country has gone to the dogs.

Dogs v native animals

Australia is home to an estimated 29 million pets and about 25.7 million people. That’s right, more pets than people. We might have to stop teasing New Zealand about having so many sheep. Most of those pets are dogs and cats, and roughly one in three households has a pet dog.

Australia also has the world’s highest rate of native mammal extinction – outright. Pets are one cause of the extinctions. Cats are the single most destructive introduced species in the country, and wild dogs cause large-scale destruction. Wild dogs were once pet dogs. Native mammal extinction points to a disregard for native animals among Australian people who demonstrate an obsession with pet animals. Australians clearly prioritise dogs and cats over wildlife.

Natural disasters

Even during the Black Summer bush fires of 2019/2020, concern for pets over native animals was evident. Unfortunately, many pets were lost, but millions of native animals also perished in the unprecedented fires. However, at one emergency centre, evacuees complained that their pets were not allowed inside the building, because health and safety regulations prohibit the entry of pets into the premises. Evacuees and fellow Australians erupted on social media and blasted the evacuation centre co-ordinators. The dogs were safe, they had food, water and medical attention, and they were supervised outside the premises. Even some of the evacuees themselves chose to sit outside the building while they waited for the fires to be put out. Australians decried the treatment of pets, while millions of native animals were dying.

National parks

Pet dogs are banned from national parks in Australia. Domestic pets have an adverse effect on native wildlife. Some dog owners ignore signage and they take their dogs into national parks. According to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, rangers cannot effectively monitor all of the parks to prevent domestic pets from entering, because they lack the resources. National parks services are not sufficiently funded by government.

Where is the national outcry?

Why aren’t Australians demanding the protection of our national parks? Perhaps for the same reason that Aussies are not doing more to protect another national icon, the koala.

Experts warn that koalas could become extinct by 2050, and wild dogs are a major cause of koala deaths, along with land clearing and climate change. Environmental groups and concerned citizens are campaigning for habitat protection to ensure koala survival, but where are the owners of the 29 million pets?

Koalas are also a major contributor to the nation’s (pre-COVID-19) tourist sector and the economy. Tourists flock from all across the globe to see a koala up close. They will not fly halfway around the world to look at someone’s pet dog.

Wildlife shelter vs pet shelter

Controversy surrounds changes to the RSPCA NSW Blue Mountains Shelter in Katoomba, near Sydney. Essentially, the debate centres around the expansion and modification of the shelter to cater for native wildlife harmed by the 2019/2020 bush fires. The fires were so widespread in the Blue Mountains that the national parks and the animals therein are still being rehabilitated.

RSPCA members and community members have voiced objections to the inclusion of native wildlife in the shelter. The RSPCA conceded that:

“…wildlife could be stressed by the sight, sound or even smell of the dogs…” and thus dogs would have to be housed in a completely separate building. One member then stated:

“I am concerned for the dogs which will need to be locked away in the new, totally enclosed kennels…” and a local politician, Kerry Brown, expressed similar sentiments.

Many of the animals housed at the shelter are strays. They are animals left without a home due to the neglect of owners. Therefore, rehabilitation of native animals is being obstructed due to concern for dogs.

The RSPCA website states that:

“Along with cats and dogs, RSPCA helps a wide range of other animals from horses to rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, goats and sheep. All of these animals are non-native, (birds may be native or introduced). Rabbits cover Australia in plague proportions and destroy native flora and fauna, as well as crops. In contrast, an organisation called WIRES (Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service) cares for native animals. If the majority of Australians heard the names of these two organisations, which one would they be more familiar with?

Image: Gabriel Crismariu

Walking the Other Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon Walk in the Blue Mountains of NSW is certainly less grand than its famous name sake, but the hike is a rewarding walk through beautiful bush land which ends with a stunning view.

The walk snakes its way along the base of the canyon after descending from either of the two starting points near the mountain town of Blackheath.

Beautiful native vegetation, ancient trees, waterfalls and the river are on display throughout the walk, and native wildlife is slowly returning after the destruction of the most recent bush fires. Lush green plants juxtapose with sandstone cliffs. Slim, pale eucalyptus trees are dotted along the trail and the cliff tops and water falls dance in the sunlight.

Walkers can start from Evans Lookout and complete the walk at the Neates Glen car park, or walk in the opposite direction. Starting at Neates Glen car park rewards hikers with the stunning vista from Evans Lookout at the end of the hike – a great spot for a drink and a well-earned snack.

Whichever direction hikers take, they will start the hike with a staired descent and finish with a hike up some stairs. The steep stairs which bookend the hike explain the advisory on the official NPWS website which recommends 3 – 4 hours to complete the journey. Hikers with a reasonable level of fitness can finish the walk in about 1 hour at a steady pace, even after stopping to take photos and admire the scenery.

Photographers are rewarded on this trail and its worth taking a snack and stopping at the bottom of the trail in one of the rest areas to enjoy the scenery and the wildlife, as well as the peace and quiet on a weekday.

Early in the morning or late afternoon are the best times to enjoy the Grand Canyon. Early mornings in winter can be very cold, but can treat the hiker to mountain mist or sharp, blue skies. Mornings and late afternoons are also the best times to watch the sun bounce off the stunning yellow sandstone cliffs for which the Blue Mountains are famous.

At present, the hike is restricted to the Grand Canyon walk. The cliff top walk from Evans Lookout to Govett’s Leap Lookout is unfortunately closed due to bush fires, as are the longer and more challenging hikes which branch off the main track. Most long hikes in the region will apparently be closed for the rest of 2020.

The Grand Canyon walk is reachable by train. From Blackheath station it is about a one hour walk to the trail head, either walking back along the highway and turning left at the big brown sign to Evans Lookout, or by walking though suburban streets to Braeside fire trail, then towards the starting point.