CONTENT WARNING: This story may distress some readers.
The ACT Government has conceded it used “blunt force trauma” to kill joeys whose mothers are euthanised in kangaroo culls.
The Territory undertakes a kangaroo cull every year between the beginning of March and late July. This time of the year is picked to avoid the months when most females have large dependent-pouch young or young-at-foot.
This year, 1645 eastern grey kangaroos were culled across the nine reserves. Culls have been underway in nature reserves in the ACT for around 15 years.
In budget estimates hearings on Friday (2 September), Opposition spokesperson for the environment Nicole Lawder put the heat on the government about what exactly happens to young found alive in their mother’s pouch.
She questioned whether they were “clubbed” to death – terminology government officials objected to.
Officials said joeys were killed instantly by “blunt force trauma”, which they stated was in line with the national code of practice.
The hearings were told this method was recognised to be more humane than leaving the young alone to be predated upon.
Officials took it on notice to provide more detail about what those methods of killing were and what objects were used. They also took on notice how many joeys were killed this year in the cull.
Minister for the Environment Rebecca Vassarotti said the ACT was “at the forefront of managing best practice” for conservation culling.
“The animal welfare practices are supported by organisations such as the RSPCA … and we are looking at other mechanisms of kangaroo management – including fertility treatment to minimise the need to cull,” she said.
“No one likes doing a kangaroo cull but we … recognise the scientific basis and the need to do this to protect some very vulnerable ecosystems.”
Kangaroos are culled with a single headshot which has been nationally agreed upon as the most humane method of culling.
Ms Vassarotti said the government was investigating alternatives to reduce its reliance on culls. This included the use of infertility drugs such as GonaCon, which has been trialled since 2015.
In April, $300,000 was committed to a program through which darts loaded with the drug are fired at adult female kangaroos. Drug trials have left around 80 per cent infertile five years after first being injected.
During Friday’s hearings, Labor backbencher Dr Marisa Paterson questioned what evidence the government had this method would work and would be cost-effective given there appeared to be little available.
Ms Vassarotti characterised the ACT as a research “leader”, as the drug had primarily been used in the context of other species in other jurisdictions.
“We have been working with researchers for a long time [on the project]. Up until last year, we had been trialling it in partnership with the CSIRO and we did find it was … effective,” she said.
“It is now fully integrated into the program, but at this point in time, we don’t see that we’ll be able to use it to completely replace current kangaroo management policies.”
“In the future, there may be technological advances [which allow us to do so], but [for now] we are at the forefront of this research space.”