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The Getting of the Nganabbarru: observations and reflections on Aboriginal buffalo hunting in northern Australia

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Nganabbarru, or water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), is frequently hunted by Aboriginal men, and buffalo meat is an important food source for many Arnhem Land Aboriginal communities. The experience of buffalo hunting trips with Aboriginal men who reside at Korlohbidahdah outstation in central Arnhem Land is used as a point of departure to consider the relationships between Aboriginal people and megaherbivores in the past and the present, and to explore the complexity of feral animal management in cross-cultural settings. This enquiry raised the question of the cultural conception of feral animals and demonstrates that there is no simple answer to the question: what is a buffalo? Buffaloes have been the focus of a colonial economic industry and are iconic of the Territorian way of life. However, they spread economically significant livestock diseases and cause widespread environmental damage. In the 1980s feral buffalo populations were the target of the Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign (BTEC) control program. The failure to continue control programs following the cessation of BTEC program and inadequate consultation with Aboriginal landowners has meant that today's land managers are once again faced with conflicting views about controlling feral buffalo populations on Aboriginal land and within National Parks like Kakadu. It is concluded that there are genuine, previously overlooked opportunities for cross-cultural collaboration in managing feral buffaloes. Cross-disciplinary research involving ecologists, anthropologists, linguists, economists and environmental historians is required to help develop sustainable and culturally appropriate feral animal control programs.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2002-07-01

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