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Under fire report: Page 2

Enforcing the Code

The kangaroo industry state that to enforce the Code of Conduct: “National Parks and Wildlife Rangers CONSTANTLY conduct unannounced inspections.”

This is nonsense. Even if the wildlife authorities had powers to enforce the Code they could not use them as the shooting takes place at night in remote areas without monitoring.

The Australian Wildlife Protection Council says: “The code of practice is legally unenforceable.”

The number of kangaroos allowed to be killed in New South Wales in 1998 was 1.3 million and yet in 1997 the NSW Parks Law Enforcement Officers were being reduced from a mere eight down to six (18).

And in any case, in direct contradiction to the kangaroo industry’s claim, the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service state:

“Cruelty to kangaroos are regulated and dealt with under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals legislation....NPWS does not have direct access to or maintain records on prosecutions under that legislation.” (8 December 1996)

Cruelty to kangaroos is ignored by wildlife authorities at both State and Federal level.

Further, commonwealth powers in relation to wildlife are restricted to the control of exports under Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982. This allows no power to link cruelty or animal welfare to decisions made as to the number of kangaroos being killed for export (17, 19).

Kangaroos are hunted in the outback, away from public scrutiny and official supervision

 

Under Fire

“Kangaroos are strictly protected” Australian High Commission.

Men drive though the bush in four wheel drives, searching for wild kangaroos which they illuminate with powerful searchlights. They are then shot, supposedly in the head. For many animals it is the throat or neck, leaving them struggling and still conscious when they are dragged to the truck. A kangaroo shooter of 20 years who moved to London, UK told Viva! in 1998 (and reiterated a similar quote to the London Evening Standard in 2001):

“We often shot kangaroos in the leg because it was a much easier target than the head. You hoped that it would slow them enough to find them and finish them off. That could take some time. I’ve seen kangaroos running with their guts spilling out.... I’m not proud of what I’ve done; I just wanted to tell you that the kangaroo industry is lying.”

Some animals are still alive when their leg is sliced open, a hook is inserted through the gash and they are hauled up onto the truck. Their throat/chest is then slit. The shooter stops from time to time and guts the kangaroos, the head, limbs and tail are chopped off and discarded. The skin is left on until the dead animal reaches the processing works (32). The carcasses are supposed to be delivered to a chiller, usually at a local town depot before high temperatures help further rotting. They are then taken to a processing plant where skins are pulled off and taken to a tannery to make leather and the carcasses butchered for meat. What is left of Australia’s national emblem goes to make fertiliser.

Even for an experienced shooter, the small kangaroo head is a difficult target, especially at night with the dazzle of spotlights distorting vision. In 1985 the Australian RSPCA carried out a survey into the kangaroo industry, paid for by government. The RSPCA warn that their results were distorted because “the shooters volunteering information were considered the cleanest in the industry”. Even so, they found that “at least 15 per cent of kangaroos killed commercially die inhumanely”. They say the true figure is much higher. 

The Australian RSPCA said in 1997:

“The RSPCA opposes the killing of kangaroos for economic purposes...the incidence of cruelty is too high to be justified....we are campaigning against the quota system and the industry it sustains.” (20)

Amazingly, the kangaroo industry often states that the RSPCA supports the commercial kill. In 1999, Peter Barber, Director of the Victorian State RSPCA put the record straight. He said:

“In its 1985 report, the RSPCA voiced its concern over the high incidence of inhumane kills. For some self-promoting reason several people have interpreted the report as an endorsement of the kangaroo industry. This is completely untrue, in fact, absurd.
 “The RSPCA has steadfastly opposed the quota system and the killing of kangaroos for economic purposes. The industry has not identified that any improvements have been made since the RSPCA report was written and, in any case, as with other self-regulated industries, proper regulation and standards cannot be guaranteed.” (22)

If a shooter is a poor shot it simply means he uses a few extra rounds of ammunition, using living animals for target practice, many of which will limp off into the bush to die a painful death. In Britain, the use of shot guns with a wide spread of shot have been consistently decried as an undesirable way of killing foxes by the hunting lobby. Yet in Australia, the single shot of a rifle is portrayed as a humane and infallible method of killing kangaroos.

One thing is certain, such a method of killing farmed animals and their young carried out under similar conditions would not be tolerated in the UK and would be seen as what it is - an animal welfare outrage.

IFAW footage showed an ‘experienced’ unlicensed but commercial killer, and his son of about 10 years old, killing kangaroos and joeys. The film contained numerous instances of blatant cruelty

Video footage filmed by IFAW Australia shows a middle-aged man, an ‘experienced’ unlicensed but commercial killer, and his son of about 10 years old, killing kangaroos and joeys. It is evidence of just one night’s slaughter and contains numerous instances of blatant cruelty:

 

1.       The majority of kangaroos shot are hit in the throat and do not die instantly.
2.       The child stands on the face of a wounded, conscious kangaroo as the shooter cuts into its leg in order to place a hook through it.
3.       A kangaroo is shot in the throat, hung onto the truck by a hind leg and the truck is driven away with the animal still gasping for breath.
4.       A joey is pulled out of the pouch of his dying mother. The shooter comments: “You'd better turn the camera off,” as he stamps on the baby’s head. The child then also casually twists his foot on its head but the joey is still alive and moaning after these crude attempts to kill it.
6.       The shooter allows a pouched young to escape into the bush where it will certainly die.
7.       The shooter boasts about shooting pelicans, a protected species of wallaby and tries to shoot at a moving fox. And so it continues....

(For a copy of the footage, contact Viva!.)

The shooters may work through most of the night. If the killing is for skin only, often the case in Queensland, the shooters stop from time to time to skin the animals, leaving the carcass. He may kill over 100 kangaroos per night. In NSW and WA, shooting only for skins is illegal and the number of kangaroos slaughtered in one night is limited by what the truck can carry, usually 50 (32).

Why Are Kangaroos Killed?

Australian wildlife, including kangaroos, is under serious threat from Australian Government policy, which
now states:

“Australian native wildlife is a renewable resource. If managed in an ecologically sustainable manner, wildlife can provide a perpetual source of economic benefits for all Australians.”

Where farmers believe (mistakenly) that they are in competition with the wildlife on ‘their’ land, the Government always favours the landowner. Whatever animal is involved, it is destroyed.

Two main reasons have been given to Viva! by the industry for killing kangaroos. These are:

1.       Kangaroos are a major wheat crop pest
2.       Kangaroos compete with sheep/cattle for resources

It is also said that kangaroos breed out of control (see also Population Matters on page 19) and that artificial watering points have affected the distribution of kangaroos.

These statements are untrue and do not justify the largest wildlife massacre this planet has ever seen. Let’s look at each statement in turn.

1. Kangaroos Are Not ‘Wheat Pests’
“Kangaroos no longer exist in wheat areas as they have long since been killed off.” (Australian Wildlife Protection Council). (23)

A four year study of Grey Kangaroos in Western Australia by CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation) found that 95 per cent of wheat crops are never visited by kangaroos. (2)  Also few kangaroos wander more than 400 metres from their home range in the bush. The study found that kangaroos have virtually no impact on the country’s crops, despite claims by farmers that they are a major crop pest and further the study recommended that farmers who have natural bush land on their property encourage its growth to help keep the kangaroos fed.

Dr Graham Arnold, former senior principle research scientist, CSIRO, Division of Wildlife and Ecology, who studied the impact of kangaroos on croplands, stated in 1998:

“Most kangaroos did not like to eat farm crops and would only thrive if given access to their natural foods.........Unless the community manages remnant vegetation to minimise degradation and enhance the regeneration of native plants, kangaroos and some other native species will disappear from much of Western Australia over the next 100 years.”

He also said:

“All the land cleared for farming in Western Australia was habitat for one or more species of kangaroos, wallabies and their relatives. Today, five species are extinct throughout the wheatbelt and four species are found only in a few locations.” (22)

Furthermore, a study of the kangaroo killing zones quickly reveals that kangaroos are largely commercially shot in areas where they are NOT seen as a problem to crop growers. Instead, commercial killing takes place in regions of extensive grazing. These areas produce almost no crops and account for only 10 per cent of Australia’s meat production (22). Dr Arnold states:

“Due to the marginal nature of these areas [where kangaroos are killed commercially for meat and skin], stocking rates of [sheep or cattle] are traditionally very low. Properties need to be enormous. Indeed, publicity given to property owners in these areas in the outback show that the kangaroo, even if in large numbers, could only be placed very low on a long list of environmental and economic factors effecting their livelihood.”

Yet farmers and the Australian Government regularly refer to kangaroos as pests. Dr Arnold responds:

“Pests is an emotive word. It conjures up visions of animals destroying crops. I can think of no situations where this is likely to be true for kangaroos.” (22)

2. Kangaroos Do Not Compete With Sheep and Cattle
The second main reason given for slaughtering kangaroos is that they compete for resources with cattle and sheep. A six year study by Dr Steven McLeod at the University of New South Wales (3) is the most comprehensive of its type and thoroughly examines whether the presence of Red Kangaroos negatively impacts on sheep. When I gave interviews in Australia on the kangaroo trade, the industry’s, farmers, politicians and some journalists most favourite excuse for the killing was that kangaroos would eat sheep out of house and home if left to their own devices. According to Dr McLeod some studies previous to his have suggested that kangaroos and sheep compete for food, but none have been conclusive. His study is the first to examine this hypothesis properly. In a nutshell, he finds that:

“There was no evidence of a competitive effect of red kangaroos on sheep.” (3)

This was true even in drought conditions. In the winter of 1991 when the study region was officially declared as drought stricken by the Government of NSW, the study found no competition for food between sheep and Red Kangaroos. The study concluded that Red Kangaroos do not effect the body mass, wool growth, reproductive output of sheep or the growth and survivorship of lambs. In fact, it was found that Red Kangaroos “consistently avoid areas used by sheep” and that sheep have a negative impact on kangaroos! 

Further, Ingrid White who was awarded the Australian Post-Graduate Award for her PhD, started field research for her thesis, Spatio-temporal interaction of mammalian herbivores in the arid zone, in 1994 at UNSW Arid Zone Research Station Fowlers gap, Broken Hill. She states:

“Like several other researchers before me, working in the same study area located on a commercial sheep station in the outback of New South Wales and working under real conditions, in real paddocks and with real stocking rates, I found little evidence for detrimental effects of kangaroo on the domestic sheep or vegetation. And this, despite the kangaroos not having been culled as a ‘pest’ species for more than 30 years - and the kangaroos equalling or surpassing the numbers of sheep stocked on the station.” (22)

Grigg – the Main Advocate of Kangaroo Killing – Admits Kangaroos Do Not Compete with Sheep
If there was any doubt left that kangaroos are pests and compete with sheep, it was finally laid to rest by Gordon Grigg, the man who first encouraged the slaughter with his kangaroo killers’ bible, The Commercial Harvesting of Kangaroos in Australia. It had previously been claimed that one kangaroo equalled one sheep in its grazing demands, forgetting to add that at about 100 million, the actual number of sheep far outstrips even the most ambitious estimate for kangaroos.

Grigg finally did some research and discovered that one sheep equalled almost five kangaroos - so estimates of their grazing pressure had been 500 per cent out and the excuse for killing kangaroos was therefore also 500 per cent out. Unsurprisingly he concluded: “The hope of getting a significant improvement in wool production by pest control of kangaroos is probably doomed to failure.” (70)

If you were naive you might think that this demolished the last excuse of the industry and killing would be ended. Governments are much more duplicitous than this, particularly when a few votes are at risk in remote rural areas. They simply removed the need to prove damage mitigation at all – in other words, anyone can now kill kangaroos simply because they’re there.

3. Kangaroo Distribution is Not Related to AWPs
Another excuse for the killing related to stock (artificial) watering points (AWP) and the argument that this unnatural water supply had caused kangaroo numbers to explode, causing serious overgrazing.

No sooner was the claim established than a study in Sturt National Park (Strategic Management of AWP for Biodiversity, Conservation and Nature Based Tourism) destroyed it. It reveals that kangaroo distribution is not related to ‘water-focused grazing patterns’ but is mainly determined by the best grazing and resting spots. Researcher Rebecca Montague-Drake (UNSW, Sydney) showed that because kangaroos prefer to drink at specific times of day, they may be seen in high densities around watering holes, but the animals quickly disperse to the best grazing or resting places. She states: “Current lack of vegetation around AWP can be more correctly attributed to sheep grazing pressure, even 20 years after sheep have been removed, than to kangaroo grazing pressure.” (68)

4. Kangaroos Do Not ‘Breed Out of Control!’
Research on Red Kangaroos by Amanda Bilton and David Croft (University of New South Wales) was even more disturbing when it revealed that far from numbers booming, few joeys survive (69). The average number of young weaned in a lifetime is only 3.7 (41 per cent less than their potential). Half the females weaned less offspring than expected and a quarter left no offspring at all. Only about seven per cent reach adulthood each year and, even worse, Red Kangaroos are being slaughtered three times faster than they can breed. Without showing concern, other scientists stated at a conference in July 2001 that the average age of red males, who can live for more than 20 years, has collapsed from 15 to just two years old, caused by the industry’s practice of targeting the largest animals.

Clearly, the reality is the opposite to that which the meat industry would have us believe. And the whole basis upon which the kangaroo massacre has gained public tolerance in Australia is false.

Population Matters

Counting Kangaroos
Red, Eastern and Western Grey kangaroos are counted from the air in certain zones (and sometimes from the ground eg Eastern Greys). This methodology has been criticised for many years for its inaccuracy. Correction factors are used to guess the true population levels. Put simply, when one kangaroo is spotted, you multiply by 4.8 or a number nominated to compensate for those kangaroos that can’t be seen. Every state uses different correction factors and they keep changing - sometimes more than doubling! The kangaroo populations can double overnight according to this counting method - a method obviously deeply flawed.

In 1998, Tony Bigwood, director of Wildlife Populations Environment Australia, issued a directive to the NSW NPWS Kangaroo program manager, Joshua Gilroy that new correction factors would apply. He admitted that Grey Kangaroos could not be distinguished from the air and recommended that the correction factor be lifted from 2.2 to 4.8.

Pat O’Brien, Wildlife Protection Association of Australia, believes the Australian Government fudges the figures in favour of the kangaroo industry. He states that before 2001, Government agencies estimated a kangaroo population of 25 million; by 2002 it would be impossible for the population to more than double. 

Population Control?
The kangaroo meat industry contradicts itself in its claims over why kangaroos are killed. On the one hand they state they the animals need to be killed to keep their numbers in check. On the other, they claim that killing kangaroos conserves the species and increases numbers. They cannot have it both ways!

There is no evidence to show that kangaroos are commercially killed for meat and skin today as a method of population control. (See Quotas - a Cynical PR Exercise on page 25.)

This claim of ‘population control’ becomes particularly hollow when you realise that the kangaroos are not ‘culled’. A genuine cull aims to reduce the size of a population and involves killing whole family groups. It may involve killing the old, sick, diseased and lame animals. In the case of the commercial kangaroo slaughter - only the largest and fittest animals are shot and usually more males are killed (because they are bigger); leaving young females to breed rapidly. The commercial killing industry is not an organised cull working with the best interests of the kangaroo at its heart! 

The late Dr Peter Rawlinson, zoologist at La Trobe University, Melbourne, said:

“Kangaroo culling programs completely disregard the age and sex structure of herds, and for this reason cannot be taken seriously.... Professional hunters shoot mainly large adult males, because these animals earn them the most money.”

The estimates of the population sizes of the most commonly killed species of kangaroo vary enormously. In 1983 Barry Cohen, then minister for the environment, Australia stated that there were 21 million kangaroos; in the same year the National Farmers Federation claimed there were 30 million!
In 1998 the Australian High Commission in London stated that there were over 50 million kangaroos. This is a ludicrous figure and not supported by Australia's Federal Department of the Environment which quoted a total of 19 million animals in the same year. The industry estimated that there were 27 million animals in an interview with myself in 1998. In 2001 they stated that there are 35 or 50 million animals (27); 40 million (28) and 50 million (26)! In 2000 the Government estimated 25 million, in 2002 they more than doubled the figure to 58 million - making it very difficult to trust their guesstimates. It is in the killers interests to quote a high number - but if 25, 35 or 60 million were accurate; this is not a high number for a landmass the size of Australia; nor is it a large number when you consider in the region of 10 million kangaroos were killed in 2000. (Includes commercial, non-commercial and illegal shootings, joey deaths due to mothers being shot and road kills.) 

Most importantly of all, what matters is not the total number of kangaroos so much as whether they are an integral, valuable and essential part of their environment or whether they are destroying it. As seen later - scientific evidence shows that the rapid destruction of Australia’s environment is not being caused by kangaroos!

In any event, averaging the staggeringly variable estimates of kangaroo population sizes over the past 30 years, shows that the population has not increased and until recently has remained fairly constant, except during severe droughts (eg in 1982-83 it dropped to only 11 million). However, there are worrying signs of populations falling today. For example, in New South Wales (NSW) the percentage of all species of kangaroos killed has increased over the last decade. 19 per cent of Eastern Greys are shot and 21 per cent of Western Greys (risen from 14 per cent in the 1980s). Also, in 1996 the NSW kill was the highest on record, whilst the population was the lowest for 11 years (21).

Due to the steady increase in the size of the annual massacre and the decrease in habitat, numbers are set to fall nationwide.

The population estimates above are for the main species of kangaroos killed; there are many other macropod species which are endangered or vulnerable. Furthermore, kangaroo expert Dr John Auty BVSc claims that the current population size of the main species today is far less than the numbers which existed when the Europeans first settled in Australia. In other words, the industry’s portrayal of the kangaroo being in ‘plague proportions’ is a convenient but false assertion.

Populations Crash from 2000-2005
According to the Australian Government's Sustainable Wildlife Industries, Department of the Environment and Heritage the numbers of Red Kangaroo, Eastern Grey and Wallaroo (Euro) have dropped dramatically from 2000 to 2005.

Despite constant warnings from animal welfare groups that kangaroos were under severe pressure from drought and commercial killing, the Australian Government's officially-sanctioned slaughter for meat and skin exports has continued unabated. The result is that populations of the main target species, the Eastern Grey Kangaroo, have crashed by 63 per cent in just four years. Red kangaroo numbers have collapsed by 55 per cent and Wallaroos (Euros) by over 50 per cent. The species with the smallest drop is the Western Grey, the least abundant of all the targeted species, which is down about 23 per cent.
Red Kangaroo numbers have fallen from 17.4 million to under eight million, Eastern Greys have dropped from nearly 30 million to under 11 million and Wallaroos are down from nearly seven million to just over three million, and there are just over two an a half million Western Greys left. In real terms it means that there are almost 33 million kangaroos fewer in the areas used for commercial hunting than just four years ago. Despite this, a further 3.8 million animals have been earmarked for killing in 2006, a drop of only a hundred thousand on 2005. This figure takes no account of the hundreds of thousands of baby Joeys, who are either left to die from starvation or are removed from their dead mother's pouches and are clubbed to death with iron pipes.

National Kangaroo Population Estimates for Commercial Harvested Areas

Population estimates are based on aerial and ground surveys and are for the areas within Australia where commercial harvesting occurs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year

Macropus rufus

M. giganteus

M. fuliginosus

M. robustus

Total

 

(Red Kangaroo)

(Eastern Grey)

(Western Grey)

(Euro/Wallaroo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1995

11,726,559

16,356,682

4,276,438

1,712,737

34,072,417

1996

10,261,520

14,918,531

3,892,947

1,787,615

30,860,613

1997

9,785,645

11,719,515

3,617,499

1,724,952

26,847,611

1998

14,621,757

15,194,812

3,506,301

3,671,879

36,994,749

1999

14,183,664

16,526,433

3,746,068

6,257,559

40,713,724

2000

17,906,485

23,155,494

3,393,373

6,838,750

51,294,102

2001

17,434,513

29,721,271

3,424,992

6,849,250

57,430,026

2002

13,633,816

23,383,249

3,764,289

3,064,178

43,845,532

2003

8,727,856

13,875,828

2,610,931

2,999,906

28,214,521

2004

7,987,250

11,111,840

3,019,320

3,196,511

25,314,921

2005

7,753,247

10,876,498

2,625,708

3,380,838

24,636,291

Source: Sustainable Wildlife Industries, Department of the Environment and Heritage, Canberra, Australia, 2005