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

by David Nicholls, 25th May 2000

The following submission against the continuation of the commercial harvesting of kangaroos is of three parts:
(a) Is a statement of what is.
(b) Is why it should not be.
(c) Questions to be answered by Environment Australia.

In the matter of the COMMERCIAL HARVESTING OF KANGAROOS, consecutive Australian Federal and State governments have:

  • Failed to consult with the Australian people in the process of classing the shot at species of Kangaroo as a resource.
  • Failed to inform the Australian people of the implications of that decision.
  • Failed to utilise the best possible science and common sense in forming the "opinion" that commercial kangaroo shooting is, necessary, sustainable and does not infringe on acceptable and accepted community standards of animal welfare.

Kangaroo shooting for commercial purposes is widespread, relentless and driven by financial interest. The Environment Australia publication, THE COMMERCIAL HARVESTING OF KANGAROOS IN AUSTRALIA, supposedly a justification of this practise, is nothing of the sort.

Nowhere in its 134 pages does it state that kangaroos are a significant and widespread problem other than a perceived one to the grazing community. It does however, on many occasions point out that the unsustainable use of land by sheep and cattle producers is a real problem.

The rangelands of Australia, at present levels, support 120 million sheep, 16 million cattle and sundry other feral animals such as brumbies, camels, donkeys, goats and pigs. Staying with the sheep and cattle, let a comparison be made.
Primary Industries, a government body, equate one beef to eight sheep. The equivalence of kangaroos to sheep is in the vicinity of two kangaroos per sheep.

120 million real sheep plus 16 million X 8 equivalent sheep = 248 million sheep and equivalent sheep.

248 million sheep X 2 kangaroos per sheep = 496 million equivalent kangaroos. (half a billion!)

The publication THE COMMERCIAL HARVESTING OF KANGAROOS IN AUSTRALIA places the number of shot at species of kangaroos at between 25 and 35 million. The official quota for the year 1999 was 5,682,146 and the actual "cull" was 2,600,139.

The quota represents just 1% of the equivalent kangaroo population and the actual "cull" is only .5%. These figures show conclusively that the "cull" is not necessary on grounds of large numbers interfering with grazing business. These figures show that the grazing community is driven by tradition rather than fact in vilifying the kangaroo as some kind of wrongdoer.

For kangaroo "culling" to be necessary, scientific method requires that significant, widespread and continual damage to rangelands and infrastructure is actually happening. IT IS NOT and no such inkling of evidence exists and because of the proportionally smaller number of kangaroos than stock, for it to exist, would mean that kangaroos would have to be far greater destroyers per capita than introduced stock.

The kangaroo has lived on this continent for tens of thousands of years and has developed characteristics to suit the environment. It requires less water, has soft feet, is on average smaller than sheep, seeks shade in the sun, has no need to grow wool or fat, is efficient in travelling and not limited by artificial boundaries but rather follows its food requirements, which are in most instances, different to that of the introduced animals.

It is of some note that in the publication THE COMMERCIAL HARVESTING OF KANGAROOS IN AUSTRALIA, there are over 40 references to the perceived "pest" status of kangaroos.

Kangaroos have never been in widespread pest proportions and they are not now.

In every other situation throughout the civilised world where there is widespread and relentless killing of animals, due consideration is given to the alteration of the genetic structure of those animals.

With the kangaroo, in the publication THE COMMERCIAL HARVESTING OF KANGAROOS IN AUSTRALIA, scant regard is afforded this common sense line of reasoning. Some apologetic mention is made of non-shooting areas without a full explanation of that practise.

Kangaroos are shot at in every place a kangaroo shooter can get with a vehicle. The areas that are safe to the kangaroo are generally hilly, boggy or too dense with forest or inaccessible for some other reason. Kangaroos and humans have one thing in common. If the area is no good for humans then it is no good for the shot at species and these areas are small, not evenly distributed and may not have feed. National Parks are also credited as a refuge but the same story affects them.

The biggest (alpha) males are continuously and relentlessly hunted down. They may escape being shot this year or the next, but kangaroo shooting will get them sooner or later.

THE COMMERCIAL HARVESTING OF KANGAROOS IN AUSTRALIA puts its faith in a ten year study where shooting has happened anyway. A proper study is near impossible, as the genetic structure has been altering since European invasion. (Invasion is used on purpose when it comes to the kangaroo at least!)
Let it be made clear to the reader that the biggest and most genetically fit kangaroos are the target animals. Even this is being disguised as the program is called culling. Culling is popularly understood to be the weeding out of the weak, the infirmed and the old. Australia is weeding out the strong and the bold. Common sense has taken a huge dive into the highly speculative chasm of self-interest on this point alone.

Kangaroos are not magically separated from the laws of evolution and with the preferential emphasis on killing the Alpha males they have been and are being genetically altered to a degree that puts their very long-term healthy survival at stake.

If the kangaroo were in such numbers as to be an actual threat to landholders by way of causing overgrazing and damage to infrastructure, then the present system of "control" would not only not suffice, but it would not be acceptable to Australians and the world, purely on the grounds of the cruelty involved, if the full story of that cruelty were to be come more widely known. A system of large-scale immunocontraception, or some other humane action would have to be undertaken.

That the kangaroo has become a resource after decades of ignorant perception as pests should be no surprise to anyone. That proper public education has not been undertaken, whereby Australians should have been deprogrammed from that sorry state of thinking, is an indictment against those that are now in support of this transition. MOST AUSTRALIANS THINK THAT KANGAROO NUMBERS ARE FAR HIGHER THAN THEY ACTUALLY ARE. It is in the interest of Governments, the kangaroo Industry and thoughtless landholders to uphold this myth.

The cruelty comes in two forms. Shooting is not an exact science because of the many variables and the result does cause horrific non-fatal injuries. To quantify the wounding rate is near impossible. To imply that a certain wounding percentage is "acceptable" only begs the question.

"Acceptable" to whom? Acceptable to the kangaroo shooter? Acceptable to the Australian citizenry? Acceptable to the world at large? Acceptable to the mutilated kangaroo?

It is not acceptable to a civilisation that prides itself on how it regards other creatures and which goes so far as to give a mandate to the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals to stop such excesses.

Apart from the wounding rate, the other form of cruelty is straight out of the annals of our brutish past and is a blight on all we hold to be decent and fair. This cruelty is so extreme that the publication, THE COMMERCIAL HARVESTING OF KANGAROOS IN AUSTRALIA, steers well away from anything but mere mention. And well might it, as it is the stuff of nightmares.

Young Joeys are unceremoniously dragged out of their previously secure world (the pouch) by the hind legs and swung against a purposed hard object. One swing may be followed by another and yet another if the prior does not complete a death. Otherwise healthy young animals are killed for no reason than there are no other choices. Even hardened kangaroo shooters are often sickened by this never-ending process. If this unsavoury, to say the least, part of kangaroo shooting were to be graphically filmed and widely televised to a public made aware that killing kangaroos was not even necessary, then the industry would fold overnight. As it should!

Possibly an even worse cruelty is inherent in shooting kangaroos. A very large proportion of adult female kangaroos also has a joey-at-foot. This joey is not only psychologically dependent on its mother but also it feeds off one of the multiple nipples in the pouch. The publication, THE COMMERCIAL HARVESTING OF KANGAROOS IN AUSTRALIA, again makes very small reference about this offspring. It does however acknowledge the strong bonds between mother and joey.

When the mother is killed, this joey is left to fend for itself, and any zoologist with knowledge of kangaroo habits would have to admit that its chances of survival are at the best minimal. Panic, fear, starvation or being preyed upon by the hundreds of foxes that keep tabs on kangaroo shooting, will end its life in a state of terror. This is not acceptable to reasonable thinking people.
The government set the 1999 quota at some five million seven hundred thousand kangaroos. Even though this quota was not achieved, they have accepted the moral consequences of such a number.

If on the lower end of the scale, only 20% are adult females, then one million and one hundred and forty thousand will die. Again on the lower end of a scale if only half have a joey-in-pouch and a joey-at-foot, then around one million and one hundred and forty thousand (1,140,000) animals are killed in a way not acceptable to the Australia public, IF THEY KNEW! As it turned out, only half the quota was filled. This then equates with some 570,000 joeys meeting a death totally out of line with modern Australian ideas on animal welfare. To put it in some kind of perspective, 1,560 joeys (at a minimum) die this way, on average, EVERY NIGHT of the year, every year. At a maximum with the 1999 quota of 5,700,000 and half being female with two joeys ie. one in pouch and one at foot, 15,600 would die EVERY NIGHT. The actual figure lies somewhere in between. The real and unconscionable figure should be as widely known by the public, as it would be widely condemned by them.

The unrelenting trauma that witnessing animals left alive have to deal with on an ongoing basis, goes well beyond the bounds of any principled welfare ethic.
Kangaroo shooting is inherently and overtly cruel by ALL standards that can be applied and would not be acceptable to reasonable thinking people, if they knew.

Are the Australian people properly informed and have full knowledge of kangaroo shooting?
Does Environment Australia consider that kangaroos are a widespread pest, considering that shooting is widespread?
Does Environment Australia have other than landholder "claims" and Primary Industry supportive guessing that kangaroos are a widespread pest?
What independent scientifically constructed studies reached this conclusion? Please include those studies in your response.

As kangaroo shooting is so relentless, widespread and male selective, and genetic strength is of such importance that the whole basis of this action rests on this knowledge, what are the long term (and ten years is not long term) studies, that prove beyond commonsense, that the kangaroo population is not undergoing detrimental genetic alteration? Please include those studies in your response.

As the average weight of shot kangaroos shows kangaroos alteration of size over time, thus indicating that older good-gene breeding males may be being wiped out, what is the average weight of kangaroos shot in 1999, 1989,1979,1969,1959?

It is implied that kangaroo numbers were less in pre European times. Historical documented evidence suggests that view to be incorrect. Vast areas that are now cities and their surrounding support regions and considerable amounts of intensive agricultural land are virtually kangaroo void. What evidence has Environment Australia to support more now and why does it even matter considering the small number compared to introduced species?

Considering that animal welfare is an issue that a knowing public would have interest in and the questions from 9 to and including 13 are capable of quantitative study:

  • How many joeys are killed from the pouch? Please include studies with your reply.
  • How many at-foot-joeys die by previously mentioned means? Please include studies with your reply.
  • How many adult kangaroos are non-fatally shot each year? Please include studies with your reply.
  • What is the nature of those injuries? Please include studies with your reply.
    How many kangaroos escape after wounding? Please include studies with your reply.
  • How many full time kangaroo shooters are there?
  • How many part time shooters are there?

Does Environment Australia concede that by vilifying the kangaroo as a perceived pest and having the Australian public believe that the numbers are far, far greater than they actually are, has a detrimental effect on peoples attitude towards kangaroos and goes a long way to condoning "sport" shooting and atrocities committed onto kangaroos by younger (and older) members of society?

The publication THE COMMERCIAL HARVESTING OF KANGAROOS IN AUSTRALIA is not a scientific document in the areas of pest recognition, genetic evaluation of the effect of "resource" kangaroo shooting or a responsible look at the animal welfare aspects of this worse than callous industry. Considering these very obvious facts, why does Environment Australia use it as some kind of sanction for kangaroo shooting?

This next inquiry is most important as it brings into question the efficacy of the method of counting kangaroo numbers. The kangaroo is a very mobile, secretive and spasmodically located animal and even though the counting methods may be somewhat indicative of numbers in the counted area (only 1.5% of total area), any serious extrapolation, is by the nature of the kangaroo, not much better than guessing. This is brought home by the publication, THE COMMERCIAL HARVESTING OF KANGAROOS IN AUSTRALIA, stating that the numbers of the shot at species range between 25 million to 35 million. A 10 million kangaroo discrepancy. If this information is then aligned with the 1999 quota and the actual kill for 1999, then some pertinent questions are in need of answer. The actual 1999 "cull" was 2,600,139 and the 1999 quota was 5,682,146. This is over a 100% difference. The importance of understanding the reasons for this cannot be overstated. If it is because the kangaroos are not there to be shot, then the whole premise for "harvesting" is in error and the kangaroo is in greater threat of genocidal extinction than was previously thought. Anecdotal evidence is in support of this proposition. If it is because there are not enough shooters, then one has to wonder why, when the Government, the Industry and Environment Australia, continually state a large number situation is extant. The rural climes have plenty of people in need of either added or just income. If it is because markets cannot support the quota numbers then an investigation into this is needed to validate that as a reason. The crucial question is then, and it is in need of proper answer supported by EVIDENCE:

18. Why is there such a huge difference between the 1999 quota numbers and the 1999 actual kill numbers?

By definition, kangaroo shooting produces a wounding rate. (Non instant kill) Even the highest level of skill does so. As with all other skill-based activities, some people are "good" and some people are not so "good", and some can never be "good". Coupled with the inexperience of a proper understanding of kangaroo habits and other factors, keeps wounding at an appreciable level that has to be "accepted." To hide from, or to use an artificially low and "convenient ' figure, when commonsense indicates that averaging at around 15% is not too ridiculous, is just an exercise in denial for the sake of expedience.

The one shot principle is just that, a principle and it is often not attained
The head of a kangaroo is a very small target and many factors come into play. Such accuracy is only obtained in Olympic shooting where the shooter is fit and healthy, has slept well, has a solid rest to place his firearm and most importantly, the target is clearly defined, well lit, accurately distanced and does not move at the critical moment. The Olympic shooter is also the top of the line from thousands of shooters that are not as good as her/him self.
Accepting that around 15% of kangaroos are not killed by one shot, the following are some of the reasons, not necessarily in order of importance:
If kangaroos have been continually shot at, they become "jumpy" and do not stay still for very long. To complicate this, it may be a moonlit night and the spotlight is therefore diminished by this. It may also be (and it only has to be slight), windy and the kangaroos are very uneasy because this interferes with their hearing abilities. To complicate this further, telescopic sights are extremely vulnerable to slight knocks that put them out of alignment, making guesswork of correcting the error, not so unusual. The shooter may occasionally become bogged or have a flat (or many) tyre, thus affecting the time he has for shooting or altering physical ability. The shooter may have to endure daytime sleeping in hot and basic conditions without adequate diet. The shooter may have to drive very long distances to get to where the kangaroos are and then he has to butcher on site, which is physically demanding. The shooters vehicle may be running a little "rough" (as all vehicles sometimes do) and as that is his "solid" rest for shooting, accuracy can be affected. As mentioned, when it is windy, that is a double whammy, with the vehicle moving slightly in the wind and the kangaroos a long way away and not wanting to stand still for any length of time. There may be a common old hangover at work. There only has to be a minute error in aim for wounding to occur.
A professional shooter is always at it and the above factors plus tiredness or being just slightly sick are things that happen to them all at some stage.
These things do not happen all the time, but often enough for the 15% figure of wounding to be an at least figure.

The mouth of a kangaroo can be blown off and the kangaroo can escape to die of shock and starvation. Forearms can be blown off, as can ears, eyes and noses. Stomachs can be hit expelling the contents with the kangaroo still alive. Backbones can be pulverised to an unrecognisable state etc etc. Hind legs can be shattered with the kangaroo desperately trying to get away on the other or without the use of either.

To deny that this goes on is just an exercise in attempting to fool the public.
To those that have read the above, I strongly suggest that you read the publication from Environment Australia, THE COMMERCIAL HARVESTING OF KANGAROOS IN AUSTRALIA and use it as a basis for further and deeper investigation. We, as Australians, all bear some responsibility in the injustice that is being perpetrated onto the kangaroo, a magnificent animal in its own right, and those that know of this very unfortunate fact cannot rest until it is rectified.

It is unfortunate and deeply regrettable, because of the nature of this topic, that I feel obliged to sign off,

Yours Without Prejudice,
David Nicholls
© Copyright 25th May, 2000