You are here

Kangaroos: an international light and some scientific illumination on an old problem.

Glenys Oogjes, Executive Director of Animals Australia reports on the kangaroo campaign. (Sept 2001)

Juliet Gellatley of the United Kingdom’s Viva! swept into Australia again in July and announced plans for an international campaign against the commercial killing and trading in kangaroos. In 1998 and 1999 the Viva! campaign targeting UK supermarket chains successfully led to an end to the stocking of kangaroo meat in 1500 stores in response to the strong customer and protestor concerns about the welfare of the kangaroos.

Now satellite campaigns using the gruesome images of the outback kangaroo slaughter will commence in France, Germany, Belgium, the United States and South Africa, all relatively large importers of kangaroo meat. With the support of major organisations like the USA’s People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and its international offices, the Viva!-led campaign is keen to reduce the market for kangaroo products and expose the myths of the ‘clean green game meat’ image that the marketers favour.

Gellatley’s report ‘Under Fire – A Viva! report on the killing of kangaroos for meat and skin’ has been revised and updated (click here to read). This dossier uses over 40 references to debunk the myths that have been used to justify the commercial killing of kangaroos. Further information on the campaign: www.savethekangaroo.com

Scientific Conference shows up the myths coinciding with the visit by Gellatley and Tony Wardle of Viva!, a conference entitled ‘Recent Advances in the Scientific Knowledge of Kangaroos’ was held at the University of New South Wales. Scientific presentations revealed that kangaroos are not the ‘pests’ they are labelled!

Kangaroos do not compete with livestock during the recent review of the NSW Kangaroo Management Program, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) commissioned a literature review [undertaken by Penny Olsen and Mike Braysher, 2000] which in part stated that ‘although studies are few, kangaroos do not appear to impact greatly on wool production and compelling evidence of competition between kangaroos and sheep is lacking’. This conclusion was supported by work reported to the conference examining the grazing activities of kangaroos near artificial watering points (AWP)(bores) in semi-arid NSW. Rebecca Montague-Drake (University of NSW) concluded that ‘the current lack of vegetation around AWP can be more correctly attributed to sheep grazing pressure, even twenty years after sheep have been removed, than to kangaroo grazing pressure.’

Kangaroos do not breed like rabbits contrary to popular belief that red kangaroos are fast, efficient breeders, the work of Amanda Bilton (of the University of NSW) at Fowler’s Gap Research Station near Broken Hill (NSW) shows this belief has no basis. Fowler’s Gap is virtually unique in that it runs sheep but has not killed kangaroos for more than 30 years. Bilton tracked 100 female Reds over 3 years and determined that on average only about 33% of joeys born survive to weaning.

On the property, the reproductive span of the Reds is approximately 7.5 years (of their 21 year life expectancy) and the average number of joeys weaned in a single female’s lifetime is 3.26 . Given that even many weaned young do not survive to breed, recruitment into the adult population may be as low as 6-8% per annum. Bilton’s colleagues confirm that these results are consistent with the stable red kangaroo population at Fowler’s Gap over almost four decades.
N.B. The 2001 quota for red kangaroos to be killed for the commercial trade across Australia is 2.3 million, based on 21% of the estimated population.
Culling based on a lie despite these revelations, it was announced that NPWS is proposing to make the killing of kangaroos easier, having recently released a public consultation draft of the NSW ‘Kangaroo Management Program’ (KMP) which drops the need for property owners to demonstrate that ‘damage’ from kangaroos has been reduced by the killing.

It makes the point, obvious to activists for years, that the kangaroo management programs contain no mechanisms to audit the success of a ‘cull’ based on damage mitigation, and thus NPWS has dropped the requirement. The NSW program will now be based on two goals: to maintain viable populations of kangaroos across their natural ranges; and to maintain these populations in accordance with the principles of ecologically sustainable development. [The draft NSW KMP is available at www.environment.nsw.gov.au]

Tourism, Fertility Control and more… In addition to the revelations above, issues addressed at the conference included the tourist potential of wild kangaroo viewing, long-acting contraceptives and immunocontraception in macropods, a case study of managing aggressive behaviour of kangaroos towards humans, and the historical reports of kangaroo abundance.