The once noble Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has masqueraded as a legitimate animal welfare organisation for too long. The RSPCA’s offensive anti-duck hunting campaign, coupled with its aggressive opposition to feral pig hunting and the legitimate hunting of other pest and game animals, have exposed the organisation for what they have truly become - animal liberationists.
Evidence showing this ideological shift towards alarmingly extremist views has increased over the years. The RSPCA is increasingly steering away from its traditional animal welfare responsibilities of providing food, shelter and codes of practice for animal owners, and towards animal activism in the form of storming properties and harassing farmers whose very livelihood relies on producing good stock. Cases of culling a prized herd in Victoria to turning up unannounced on drought-stricken farms to destroy stock in debatable circumstances has shocked many who have long viewed the RSPCA as a reputable animal welfare group.
After forming in Australia in Victoria in 1871, the RSPCA is now represented in each state and territory, along with a national body. The organisation describes itself as a “community based charity that works to prevent cruelty to animals by actively promoting their care and protection.”
But it appears the largely government and publically funded charity has strayed from this philosophy, much like one of its captured canine clients, with incumbent president and ex-farmer Eileen Thumpkin alluding to the changing not-for-profit sector and need for a “different business approach” a thinly veiled warning of what was to come.
Ms Thumpkin strongly denied the ‘activist group’ label in her first interview as the head honcho with ABC Radio in 2013, pledging that the RSPCA would keep “looking at animal welfare and protecting animals” as they were founded to do. She listed visits to abattoirs and chicken farms as examples of the RSPCA showing its support for animal food production. There was, however, strangely no mention of her accompanying hunters on duck or other hunting expeditions, which are also legitimate food sources.
The president proceeded to brag about the long history of the RSPCA consulting all industries involved in interactions with animals to demonstrate its role as an educational and informed animal welfare body, rather than animal activists. Unfortunately, the RSPCA has apparently overlooked the SSAA and our vast information and experience relating to the legal hunting of animals and codes of practices surrounding this.
The changing position of the RSPCA was recently exposed during the 2014 Victorian election when the organisation banded with left-wing extremists Animals Australia in an anti-duck hunting campaign. Duck hunting was labelled by the two groups as the cause of ‘extreme suffering’. “Killing ducks in the name of ‘sport’ is cruel and should be banned nationally,” the RSPCA declared, subsequently labelling the declared open season in Victoria as ‘catastrophic’ for duck populations and the environment, despite scientific evidence proving otherwise.
But such hypocrisy and inconsistencies run deep within the RSPCA. The organisation has actually supported shooting as a humane control method for pest animals for more than a decade, but apparently shies away from this stance for more emotive animals.
A 2003 workshop involving the RSPCA, the Animal Welfare Science Centre and the Vertebrate Pests Committee saw the development of ‘A Model for Assessing the Relative Humaneness of Pest Animal Control Methods’. The model breaks down the overall level of welfare impacts that different pest control methods have on the target species, ranking the level of humaneness from ‘no suffering’ to ‘extreme suffering’.
The model matrix time and time again indicates shooting as having one of the lowest welfare impacts of pest control measures, therefore minimising the potential for pain or suffering by animals being destroyed.
The RSPCA’s chief scientist Dr Bidda Jones sat on the Humaneness Assessment Panel, along with representatives from government, academia and the sciences, who agreed that the model was acceptable and workable. The model was published in 2008 and a second edition in 2011.
The RSPCA supports, and in the words of Dr Jones, ‘commends’ this document that identifies the most humane control methods, including shooting. Considering this, the RSPCA’s comments on duck hunting, where practiced hunters who have completed rigorous safety training, police checks and the waterfowl identification test, are nothing short of hypocritical. In labelling duck hunting as causing ‘extreme suffering’ and ‘cruelty’, the RSPCA is at odds with itself when it employs and supports the very same method of killing for pest birds.
Geese hunting in the Northern Territory is another form of waterfowl hunting the RSPCA views as cruel and has come under similar attacks, despite prevalent numbers of magpie geese.
The RSPCA has also turned its unwanted attention to feral pig hunting in Queensland, with the state’s CEO Mark Townend saying feral pig hunters “don’t have the skills” needed for the humane killing of the pest animal.
Mr Townend called for some feral pig hunts to be banned after around 300 pigs were killed in the annual Queensland Big Boar Hunting Championships in Gympie last year. He conceded to ABC Radio that he supports ‘professional hunts’ to keep feral pest numbers down, but labelled other hunters as ‘amateurs’.
The debate surrounding amateur or ‘recreational’ and ‘professional’ hunters has long been trotted out by the RSPCA in an attempt to vilify hunting outside of pest control activities. The organisation often argues that hunters don’t have to pass a hunting test prior to a hunt.
“RSPCA Australia is opposed to the hunting of any animal for sport as it causes unnecessary injury, suffering, distress or death to the prey animal. The term ‘hunting for sport’ includes hunting with hounds, coursing, pig hunting, bow hunting and all forms of recreational shooting (e.g. kangaroo shooting, duck, quail and other game shooting),” the RSPCA website says.
The RSCPA also touts the line that “irresponsible hunting is the rule not the exception”, giving no credit to the many thousands of ethical game hunters who, for example, have contributed $295 million to the Victorian economy in 2013 alone, let alone the many environmental and conservation benefits.
The plot thickens when the RSPCA’s so-called ‘enforcement officers’ use shooting as a method to destroy animals, including offsetting starving sheep and cattle as seen in Canberra last year. Further hypocrisy arises in regards to the RSPCA’s role in the killing of other animals, particularly unwanted strays whose future is decided on cost of housing rather than morality.
In further distancing itself from its traditional animal welfare role, the Tasmanian RSPCA is looking at shedding responsibility for animal management and dealing with stray animals - two core functions of the RSPCA and directly related to animal welfare - with many donations given for this, not political campaigning.
The SSAA has been monitoring the RSPCA’s changing ways for quite a while. In September 2009, the SSAA wrote a letter to the Queen expressing our concern regarding the RSPCA’s shift in ideology and its attempt to have game bird hunting banned, requesting Buckingham Palace consider withdrawing the Royal Warrant and support for the organisation.
At the time, the Palace felt that it was an Australian issue, saying “The Queen would not become involved in the day-to-day running of the organisation”. The RSPCA UK is now coming under fire for similar ideological shifts, with the UK body now referring to animals as ‘sentient beings’, a term coined by animal liberationists who view animals as being equal to humans and deserving of equal rights, along with having conscience thoughts.
British Conservative MP Glyn Davies lamented the demise of the RSPCA in 2013, saying he was “finding it more to be an animal rights body” during a House of Commons debate on the controversial decision by the RSPCA to spend £326,000 taking the Prime Minister’s local hunt to court.
The SSAA is not the only organisation that the RSPCA has offside. New South Wales Farmers lashed out at the body in 2014, with sheep advisory chair James Jackson describing the RSPCA in a Stock Journal article as “an organisation that’s moving seriously towards the dark side”, before calling for the RSPCA’s policing duties for commercial livestock to be removed. RSPCA NSW CEO Steve Coleman admitted the line had been “muddied between welfare and rights”, pointing the finger of blame for the demise in the RSPCA’s reputation at “other organisations that have a different agenda”.
The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) has also stepped up its campaign against the RSPCA, campaigning for the reduction of the rights of animal activists to ‘invade’ farming properties in the lead up to the 2014 Victorian election. The term ‘animal activist’ was used to describe the RSPCA, with the partnership between the RSPCA and Animals Australia to campaign against duck hunting a sad sign of the changing times.
Also of concern to farmer groups is the RSPCA’s “dedicated squad of law enforcement officers policing offences against animals throughout the state”, as described on the Tasmanian RSPCA website. The concern is echoed by many who feel that a private organisation has been delegated the responsibility of enforcing criminal legislation, when it appears it is not accountable to the relevant state governments such as the normal police force, who are in turn accountable to us, the public.
Furthermore, the RSPCA has been criticised for not distancing itself from animal activist groups after the organisation unveiled a policy for mandatory reporting by those responsible for animal welfare. RSPCA Australia CEO Heather Neil was quick to distance the organisation from parallels with animal activists similar view on this, telling the Canberra Times that the RSPCA was ‘wholeheartedly’ an animal welfare organisation and that legal on-farm practices labelled by animal activists as cruel is “not the RSPCA’s position”.
SSAA National CEO Tim Bannister said it was time for the RSPCA to be held accountable and come clean regarding its true views on hunting and shooting.
“The RSPCA no longer simply operates under an animal welfare agenda and continues to move forward in an extreme animal rights direction,” he said.
“Many of our members have been supportive of the RSPCA in the past, with 20 per cent indicating they once donated to its cause. But because of the organisation’s shift in philosophy, it comes as no surprise that many have withdrawn their support.
“The SSAA has also supported the RSPCA through our Conservation and Wildlife Management branches, with the SSAA South Australia branch recently assisting in the humane disposal of injured wildlife following the bushfires.
“It’s high time the RSPCA acknowledges the codes of practice that ethical hunters operate under, which, despite its claim, is the rule, not the exception,” he furthered. “Codes are common instruments used in industries relating to animals to reduce the potential for pain and suffering, therefore eliminating any chance of cruelty.
“For the RSPCA to target law-abiding hunters as individuals who are responsible for cruelty to animals is deplorable.”
For now, front page stories of the RSPCA finding family-friendly homes for abandoned puppies and kittens will be overshadowed by its extremism agenda, along with its continual, saddening fall to the ‘dark side’ of animal activism.