An introduction to our Save The Kangaroo campaign
Australia exports approximately 3 million kangaroo skins, worth more than £12 million, to Europe and the USA every year. The vast majority of these skins are used to make football boots, some are used for golf gloves, baseball mitts and other sports goods. Products are often labelled “K leather” or “RKT” (rubberised kangaroo technology) to disguise the fact that they are made from the skins of butchered kangaroos.
Each year, the Australian government sets a quota for the number of kangaroos the industry can kill. For 2011, the quota is 3.7million. They use euphemisms such as ‘humanely harvesting’ a ‘renewable resource’ in an attempt to cloud the fact that they are authorising the slaughter of their country’s wildlife for profit.
Kangaroos are shot at night in the vast outback, miles from civilisation and away from public scrutiny. Hunters are supposed to adhere to a Code of Practice, a flimsy guideline document which is neither legally-enforceable nor linked to the Australian Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. According to the Code, to kill kangaroos ‘humanely’ hunters should shoot them once in the head, but frequently this does not happen and the animals may be shot in the throat, the neck, or have their jaws blown off. The Australian RSPCA released a report which concluded that at the very least 100,000 adult kangaroos each year are not killed ‘humanely’, but admitted that number was a conservative estimate as it did not take into account the unquantifiable number of injured animals who escape only to die slow, agonising deaths from their injuries.
Official numbers for the kill do not include the baby kangaroos who also die as a result, the worthless ‘waste’ of the industry. Each time a female kangaroo is killed, it is likely she will have two baby ‘joeys’ - one in the pouch and one ‘at foot’. Tiny joeys are pulled from their dead mothers’ pouches and stamped on, clubbed, decapitated, shot or simply left on the ground to die. Older joeys hop away into the night invariably to die of starvation, predation, cold or neglect. The industry and its customers refuse to discuss the plight of the joeys, knowing that the public is horrified by the senseless killing of these baby animals. It is believed that around a million baby kangaroos and dependent young suffer this fate every year.
After years of misinformation distributed by the Australian government, the kangaroo industry and farmers, who the world over seem to have a thorough contempt for native wildlife, the Australian public has been brainwashed into thinking kangaroos are ‘vermin’ and ‘need’ to be culled. This is simply not true. Kangaroos are not in plague proportions and have actually been wiped out in many regions. At the moment there may be in excess of 25 million kangaroos but these animals are an essential and integral part of Australia’s ecology who have evolved to live in harmony with the country’s harsh environment.
Other justifications for the kill are that kangaroos are pests who destroy wheat crops and compete with livestock for grazing. The largest study of kangaroos ever conducted, carried out by the University of New South Wales, found that the presence of kangaroos has no negative effects on sheep farms whatsoever. A study carried out by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found that 95 per cent of wheat crops are never visited by kangaroos and furthermore, Gordon Grigg, one of the most avid supporters of kangaroo slaughter and author of Commercial Harvesting of Kangaroos in Australia, the kangaroo industry’s bible, recently stated that kangaroos’ grazing requirements may have been over-estimated by as much as 500 per cent.
In some areas kangaroo populations may build up in order to withstand the regular droughts which can wipe out half the population. The kangaroo massacre destroys the process of natural selection as the largest and fittest animals, the ‘alpha’ males, are targeted. These animals are the ones who, ordinarily, would be the most likely to survive a drought. As they have been repeatedly picked off, the kangaroos who are left to breed are smaller and younger animals, causing the gene pool to be weakened. According to Dr Ian Gunn of the Animal Gene Storage Resource Centre of Australia, “...the continued slaughter of kangaroos has the potential to cause the extinction of a number of remaining species”.
Indeed, numbers of kangaroos are actually declining in Australia. Current (2010) population estimates put the numbers of kangaroos in Australia at just over 25 million; down by over 32 million on the 2001 figure of 57.4 million. This is a decline of nearly 1.9 million kangaroos in Australia since 2009 – and, worryingly, a drop has been seen in all four species that are hunted.
Six species of kangaroo are already extinct, with four more species extinct on the Australian mainland and 17 species listed as endangered or vulnerable. Red kangaroos are particularly at risk. They are now being killed at a rate three times higher than they are reproducing. In the 1960s their average age was 12, today it is two.
Despite a big drive by the industry to popularise kangaroo meat for human consumption, much of it is still used for pet food.
While many Australian wildlife experts and animal protection organisations have spoken out against this brutal massacre, they are virtually powerless to stop the decimation of their national emblem. It is important to remember that the commercial industry exists in its own right, to supply international markets with kangaroo meat and skins. Farmers will still shoot kangaroos on their properties and recreational hunters will still kill them for fun, but the industry can - and must - be stopped if the future survival of kangaroos is to be ensured.
Killing for Kicks; Juliet Gellatley, zoologist and founder & director of Viva!, examines why Australia continues its assault on kangaroos and how other countries can help stop the slaughter.
Read Under Fire, Viva!'s report into the killing of kangaroos for meat.
Read "Kangaroos: an international light and some scientific illumination on an old problem", an article by Glenys Oogjes, Executive Director of Animals Australia.
Read "The Case Against the Commercial "Harvest" of Kangaroos" by David Nicholls, former kangaroo shooter. Also, read our interview with David and find out why he quit shooting kangaroos.
Read "My View About Australia's Brutally Cruel Commercial Kangaroo Slaughter" by Antje Struthmann, long-time wildlife carer in Australia