Utilisation of native wildlife by Indigenous Australians: Commercial considerations

Author/editor: Altman, JC, Roach, LM, Liddle, L
Year published: 1997
Issue no.: 135


This paper is based on a submission to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee Inquiry into the commercial use of Australian native wildlife. It uses secondary sources and is also based on primary research.

  • Indigenous Australians have a special interest in commercial utilisation of wildlife due to their subsistence activities, religious associations with many species, present and future rights to tracts of land under land rights legislation and, potentially, following the passage of the Native Title Act.
  • Indigenous people's interest is also based in their growing involvement in sustainable utilisation of species for ecotourism and their desire to become less economically dependent on government support.
  • Indigenous people desire input into species management to ensure maintenance of biodiversity.
  • Aboriginal people have few economic opportunities in remote communities and are seeking further commercial opportunities in wildlife enterprises. However, past experience of Indigenous enterprises is chequered due to locational, cultural and human capital constraints.
  • Marketing and other problems associated with wildlife products hamper present enterprises.
  • There are few data on the impact of commercial utilisation or subsistence usage of species.

The research recommends that:

  • In the best interests of commercial utilisation of wildlife in a sustainable manner, there is a need for an enhanced role for Indigenous interests in species management. This could be achieved through their Indigenous organisations and via joint management processes. This is necessary because many species are endemic to Aboriginal-owned land that accounts for 17 per cent of Australia. Some precedents exist in joint management of inhabited national parks particularly in the Northern Territory.
  • It is essential to achieve a balance between subsistence use, commercialisation and preservation of wildlife, taking into account possible tradeoffs with the commercial value of tourism based on the non-harvesting of species.
  • Opportunities are greatest for Indigenous people when harvesting is from the wild, rather than by farming species. Joint ventures, royalty arrangements, property rights in species and joint management plans also offer opportunities for Indigenous people to become involved in commercial utilisation and management of wildlife.
  • Given the limited economic opportunities of remote Aboriginal communities, there is a need to explore options to convert Indigenous leverage with respect to species to their advantage. If commercial wildlife use is to expand, it is important that Indigenous people have equal opportunities to participate in it, and that expansion by non-Indigenous interests does not hamper the subsistence and commercial options available to Indigenous people.
  • Joint-venturing, possibly with non-Indigenous partners, is an important means that must be considered to enable Indigenous people to participate in the economic benefits from commercial utilisation of wildlife.
  • Another issue requiring investigation in the aftermath of native title legislation is whether there is a need (or statutory requirement) to recognise existing and potential Indigenous property rights in species. Indirect options to attract rents from utilisation of wildlife, either via direct involvement as joint venturers or as sellers of property rights in species, need to be assessed as a way to provide financial returns to Indigenous communities.
  • There is a need to recognise that from the Indigenous perspective, in some situations, subsistence utilisation of species may make greater economic sense than commercial utilisation. In other words, the 'outstation gate' market replacement value of species used for subsistence may exceed their monetary market price.

ISBN: Utilisation of native wildlife by Indigenous Australians: Commercial considerations

ISSN:1036 1774

Updated:  15 June 2009/Responsible Officer:  Centre Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications