Dumped heads in plantation

SEVEN large animal heads dumped and left to rot in the Hancock Victorian Plantation at Longford represent a gruesome case of littering.

The severed heads were mistakenly identified by Wellington Shire Council staff as belonging to feral goats, with council lacking authority to pursue the issue as the dumping took place on private property.

When shown photographs of the heads a Department of Environment and Primary Industries wildlife officer ruled out the skulls belonging to goats, feral or otherwise.

“To me it looks like a female Sambar Deer skull, definitely not a horse or a goat,” the officer said.

First hearing of the issue from the Gippsland Times, HVP Plantations environment and certification manager Phil Whiteman said it was disappointing when people dumped waste or rubbish on the company’s property.

“In such events we contact the local council, police or Environmental Protection Agency to help deal with the matter,” he said.

“As this matter happened a month ago, we will have trouble finding the remains or resolving the matter.”

Discovered by a man new to the Wellington Shire, the issue was reported to the council in December when the man sent photographs taken on his phone to the council, concerned that animal abuse was taking place.

A keen hunter, the man said he had a deep respect for animals and couldn’t understand why anyone would dump the heads of what he believed to be horses or deer.

“There were no remains; only heads,” he said.

“It doesn’t make sense. What kind of sick person would do this?”

He said he couldn’t believe a hunter would dispose of a deer’s head in such a manner as the head and antlers were often considered trophies.

“And don’t you just send a horse to the knackery?” he said.

“There might be some people out there that just think that ‘it’s just a dumb animal’ but most people have more sense than that.

Describing the heads as “rotted to the bone with flesh still attached” the man said it was obvious they were deliberately dumped by people who knew their actions were illegal.

He said the cuts separating the skulls from the rest of the animal’s carcasses were clean, adding that he only knew of a few things that could make those kind of cuts, other than power tools.

Drawing on years of hunting and his previous military experience, the man said the cuts had cleaved the heads from the rest of the carcass and connecting joints without shattering any vertebrae.

The man suggested a thin blade, such as a katana or samurai sword, would have been able to make the cuts.

“But you don’t see too many people running around with samurai swords,” he said.

“I didn’t buy the council’s response that they were goats,” the man said after visiting council offices on January 8 to follow up his initial report.

“Goats don’t grow that big,” the man said gesturing to an A3 newspaper sheet,” and this is not goat country.”

According to the man, the skulls showed no evidence of ridging or positions for horn placement, indicating that they couldn’t have belonged to goats.

He accused the council of failing to investigate the issue properly, claiming staff did little more than look at his photographs and didn’t visit the scene before reaching their conclusion.

Wellington Shire Council development general manager John Websdale refuted the claims.

He said the issue was immediately investigated by two “highly experienced” local laws officers.

“Council takes cases of animal cruelty extremely seriously,” Mr Websdale said.

“The skulls were identified as those of feral goats, not horses or deer, therefore no further action could be taken by council officers from an animal management perspective.

“Had the skulls been located on council-owned public land, and the person responsible for leaving the skulls been identified, fines for littering may have applied through the EPA Act,” Mr Websdale said.

“Council does not, however, have any jurisdiction over littering on private land.”

The man who spoke to the Gippsland Times admitted he did not contact police or the Department of Primary Industries about the heads, instead believing the council was best equipped to handle the issue.

People who find dumped deceased animals should phone the Environmental Protection Agency hotline on 1300 372 842, or phone the Department of Primary Industries, RSPCA or Parks Victoria.