The court hearing of an elderly sheep farmer accused of killing wedge-tailed eagles and other birds of prey by baiting them has started.
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Dorothy Sloan, 83, of Violet Town, is facing a 13-day contested hearing in the Shepparton Magistrates’ Court.
She is facing 69 charges related to the deaths of eagles and other medium-sized raptors, such as falcons and whistling kites.
She is accused of baiting the birds using other dead birds that had been injected with a pesticide generally used on crops.
Mrs Sloan has pleaded not guilty to 20 charges of poisoning medium-sized raptors with bait, poisoning 11 wedge-tail eagles with bait, seven counts of animal cruelty that resulted in the death of six wedge-tail eagles and a whistling kite, poisoning a whistling kite, and five counts of possessing wildlife.
She has pleaded guilty to 26 charges of wildlife possession – including four kangaroo joeys and 22 birds, mainly galahs and ducks.
On day one of the contested hearing on Monday, December 4, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning prosecutor Chris Carr said Mrs Sloan ran the 750-hectare property that had mainly sheep but also had some cattle and cropping.
He said Mrs Sloan “may have had some assistance” with baiting the birds but was still complicit in it.
“She ran a systematic baiting program to bait wedge-tailed eagles on and around the property,” Mr Carr said.
“She believed wedge-tailed eagles killed lambs and that explains, according to the prosecution, her conduct.”
The court was told officers from the then Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning started an investigation after a dead wedge-tailed eagle and galah were found near the Sloan property in 2019.
The galah had been butchered, and traces of the crop insecticide omethoate were found on its skin, and the prosecutor alleges it was used to bait the eagle.
The investigation turned up 271 dead birds and animals.
Mr Carr also spoke of an experienced animal pathologist’s report that showed she conducted post-mortem examinations on 151 wedge-tailed eagle carcasses, 59 medium-sized raptors, 10 galahs and 10 other birds.
The carcasses were decomposed to varying degrees, with many only skeletons.
The pathologist gave dates for the possible deaths of the birds ranging from as early as 2011 to August 2019.
Mr Carr said the charges before the court only related to birds that died from July 2019 onwards.
He also said the pathologist said she could not find any natural causes of death for most of the birds.
Mr Carr said omethoate was generally sold as the pesticide Lemat, and there was evidence this chemical was purchased in large quantities by one of Mrs Sloan’s sons in 2015.
However, during a search of the Sloan property in 2019, no Lemat was found.
Mr Carr also told how Mrs Sloan’s son Kevin, who had worked on the property, died in July 2019.
He stopped working about six weeks earlier.
Mrs Sloan’s defence counsel Charles Morgan said the case was “entirely circumstantial”, with a significant number of charges against Mrs Sloan dropped at the start of Monday’s hearing.
Mr Morgan said the dropped charges corresponded with the period Mr Sloan worked on the farm.
He said with those charges it would be difficult to exclude the possibility Mr Sloan was responsible for baiting, and he said with the remaining charges, the possibility someone other than Mrs Sloan baited the birds could not be excluded”.
Neighbour Sharyne Robinson also gave evidence under cross-examination by the prosecutor that she had made a signed statement to a wildlife officer in October 2019 that she had “been in her (Mrs Sloan’s) presence and heard her many times say eagles had killed and taken her lambs and she diligently and systematically prevented this from occurring”.
Mrs Robinson, who said she had known Mrs Sloan for 40 years and “had loyalty to her”, also said in her statement in October 2019 “it’s my belief and knowledge that Dorothy Sloan was instrumental in the baiting and killing of wedge-tailed eagles to prevent the killing of her lambs”.
However, when questioned by Mr Morgan, she said she could not remember how long ago those conversations with Mrs Sloan had taken place and that her memory was not good.
The hearing continues on Tuesday.