Emu drinking at lagoon
Half-starved emu at Bowra lagoon drinks thirstily – ©Tony Neilson

A tragic tale of animal starvation

It hadn’t rained for a year and none was expected for another six months.

That was the backdrop to a recent 4000 km road trip southwest from Cairns to Bourke on the NSW border and back up through Longreach and Winton.

The trip was memorable for many reasons, including some great photography opportunities with birds I had not previously seen.

But there was another, totally tragic side to the journey that will live with me for the rest of my days: road kill and animal starvation.

Thousands of carcasses

Along some stretches of highway – most notably between Charleville and Cunnamulla, and Cunnamulla to Bourke – thousands of carcasses littered the roads and verges.

Kangaroo eating reeds in lagoon
This kangaroo had adapted to eating reed shoots – ©Tony Neilson

The majority were kangaroos, wallabies and emus, plus foxes, pigs, a goat or three and numerous birds. But sadly, I didn’t see a single flattened cat. In one stretch I counted more than 200 victims in 3 km.

None of this is new to regular outback travellers in Australia. But the scale of the carnage is greater because the roads are a fatal attraction to starving animals.

With nothing to eat on the bone-dry open plains and a recent explosion in emu and roo populations, they head for the highways, where early morning dew collects and moistens a little fresh growth at the edges.

Balloon on a stick

While sitting under a tree at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s famous Bowra Station lagoon near Cunnamulla, I watched a grey kangaroo slowly approach the water’s edge – its head lolling at the end of its neck like a fairground balloon on a stick. It was clearly exhausted.

After a few minutes it shuffled away to some bushes, flopped on its side and lay still – dead by morning.

Interestingly, at least one kangaroo appeared to have adapted to the situation, spending hours in the middle of the lagoon every day, happily munching on young reed shoots while the sick and the dying looked on.

©Natural Images 2017

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.

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