WHILE the death toll on the Yandeyarra Reserve and Kangan pastoral lease in the Pilbara continues to rise, there is speculation that another station identified by aerial surveillance may have suffered cattle losses as well.
If confirmed it would be the third incident of cattle mortalities in the north of WA this wet season due to a combination of poor governance and a drier than usual start.
This week WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan confirmed that about 650 head of cattle had been “humanely destroyed” on the Yandeyarra Reserve and Kangan pastoral lease although she said there was “no evidence to date” that other stations were in the same predicament.
The number of cattle euthanised was on top of the 500-1000 head that perished or were humanely destroyed at Noonkanbah station last month.
The total figures are yet to be confirmed and the Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development (DPIRD) has ongoing investigations at the Kimberley and Pilbara sites.
Last week DPIRD was investigating reports that at least 500 cattle had perished on the Yandegarra Reserve with a further 1000 head at risk.
It is expected that the figures will be higher than reported as the station is said to run about 5000 head of cattle, while Noonkanbah runs about 7000 head.
DPIRD said it had engaged an independent contractor who had been working with its officers to identify “immediate at-risk areas and opportunities for cattle to be moved to water points (man-made and natural) where safe to do so to feed and manage the herd”.
This had been done via aerial and on-ground activities.
It said neighbouring stations had been offering support with access to water points and pastures and DPIRD was also progressing work around assessing and equipping targeted bores.
“This work is part of emergency management activities to improve access for cattle in poor condition to feed and water where practical and is a key focus of operations this week,” DPIRD said.
“The department is continuing to assess and monitor cattle across the station and humanely destroy animals where required.”
The Yandeyarra Reserve is 100 kilometres south of Port Hedland and is run by the Yandeyarra Aboriginal Community, which has about 400 residents.
It is managed by the Mugarinya Community Association but is currently lacking a chief executive officer whose role is to advise the community.
Both Noonkanbah and Yandegarra have had issues with filling positions of pastoral governance in the past.
DPIRD Livestock Compliance Unit inspectors have been investigating the matters regarding compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.
Ms MacTiernan said DPIRD had diverted “significant resources towards managing the situation on the ground in the Pilbara”.
“At the same time, we are conducting aerials surveys in the region to assess other at-risk stations,” she said.
“Longer term, we will double down on our efforts to drive a viable, modern and responsible pastoral industry in the north.
“We are taking a firm line on animal welfare – where there are breaches of the Animal Welfare Act, we will prosecute.”
Ms MacTiernan said responsibility for “the well-being of livestock lies with the people managing the livestock”.
“It is not acceptable that there were not staff managing the cattle at Yandeyarra on a day-to-day basis and this situation appears to have arisen after the departure of senior station leadership,” she said.
DPIRD is assisting industry and pastoralists, including sourcing long-term seasonal information including forecasts, and conducting rangeland aerial surveys during the wet season.
The Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association (KPCA) chairman David Stoate commended the swift response and action taken by DPIRD and said the association was “dismayed that we have another emerging animal welfare issue in the north of WA”.
“It is a difficult job to ensure that all livestock in the north of WA have ongoing access to feed and water in a challenging wet season such as we are currently experiencing,” Mr Stoate said.
“Pastoralists work hard to meet this challenge on a daily basis so it is disappointing that this station appears to have fallen short of their responsibilities.
“We are pleased to see animal welfare concerns are being addressed and await the further response of Minister MacTiernan and DPIRD on this matter.”
Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook said the news of another station in the north of WA losing hundreds of cattle due to a lack of adequate water points was “absolutely unacceptable in every way”.
He said with Noonkanbah station and now Yandeyarra losing about 2000-3000 head of cattle combined, it was critical that the State government acted to prevent further incidents.
Mr Seabrook said the number of cattle equated to about 30,000 head of sheep which was a major animal welfare disaster.
“We are absolutely committed as an association that something happens this time, it’s critical for the future of the industry,” Mr Seabrook said.
Greens MP Robin Chapple said it wasn’t the first time there were major cattle losses at the station and if the government had acted on previous issues, it could have been avoided.
He hoped this time something would be done to prevent further animal suffering.
In 2015 Mr Chapple posed questions in the Legislative Council asking if the government was aware of images he had posted on his website which were taken in 2012 “at Horse Water Well on Mugarinya pastoral lease, Yandeyarra, in which several cattle perished”.
The reply revealed that neither the minister nor the Department of Lands were aware of the situation and no action was taken.
“There have been numerous studies including the Wilcox report which showed that much of the land now used as pastoral stations in WA were not viable bits of land,” Mr Chapple said.
“Historically there was proper oversight of pastoral stations by officers of the Agriculture Department, and they were able to nip situations in the bud before a full blown incident occurred.
“We need to see government take up that role once more.
“If any station is found to have breached welfare requirements, they should of course face the law.”