30 April 2021

Canberra scientist believes a stronger kangaroo industry can save Skippy and the farm

| Ian Bushnell
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Collared kangaroos

Collared kangaroos in the ACT prior to fertility control treatment. Photo: File.

A US proposal to ban the import and sale of kangaroo products used in the manufacture of football boots has been described as one of the most comprehensive own goals in the history of improving the iconic Australian marsupial’s welfare.

Canberra’s George Wilson, an Honorary Professor at the ANU, and John Read from the University of Adelaide, who have 80 years combined experience in kangaroo management, have penned a piece for The Conversation arguing that weakening the industry will result in more kangaroo suffering, not less, and that a sustainable harvest would be a boon for farmers and the environment.

If the proposed bill in the US Congress succeeds, they say a ban would further suppress global demand for kangaroo products and allow unregulated, uncontrolled and unmonitored killing by amateur hunters to flourish, as well as risk mass starvation of the animals in drought conditions.

The article comes as the ACT prepares for its annual kangaroo cull which usually comes under fire from a small but vocal contingent of animal rights activists, who in the past have mounted protests in the field and tried to disrupt the shooting program.

The ACT Government last year awarded five-year $880,000 contract for shooters to humanely cull kangaroos in the Territory’s nature parks and reserves to ease grazing pressures and protect grassland species and habitats.

It is also pursuing fertility control methods.

But the cull has also been criticised for wasting the meat and skins of shot kangaroos, whose carcasses are buried.

Professor Wilson and Dr Read argue that the kangaroos, which now number more than 40 million, are far from threatened species and have flourished since the advent of white settlement due to greater availability of pasture, increased watering points, dingo control and less Indigenous hunting.

READ ALSO Drivers urged to remain alert with kangaroo collisions spiking in autumn

Under tightly controlled quotas, just 1.6 million kangaroos, or about 3.7 per cent of the population, were harvested in 2019.

Landholders trying to protect pastures take matters into their own hands using amateur shooters that do not adhere to any code of practice and poison. The pair’s research shows more kangaroos are killed this way than in the commercial harvest.

“Overabundance can also affect the welfare of the animals themselves. During the recent drought, for example, millions of kangaroos starved and breeding was suppressed, causing kangaroo numbers to fall markedly,” they argue.

It would be better if a properly regulated industry was encouraged that placed a value on each animal so they became an asset rather than pest to farmers, they say.

“We believe an alternative vision is required – one in which consumer demand for kangaroo products increases.”

“Landholders would then consider kangaroos, including the young, valuable rather than pests – creating a form of custodianship and an incentive to integrate kangaroos with other farm enterprises. This would lead to more effective management and animal welfare outcomes.”

They said soft-footed kangaroos cause less damage to soils than hard-hooved introduced livestock, and farmers could earn carbon credits through better management of grazing pressures and substituting high-emission meat and leather for kangaroo alternatives.

Government should promote the positive benefits of kangaroo products to increased their demand, emphasising the health attributes of kangaroo meat, the quality of the leather and the ethical advantages of field harvesting, they said.

“We urge the Federal Government to show leadership and work with the states to improve kangaroo management. Doing so would seem a great project for the Future Drought Fund.

“A stronger kangaroo industry integrated with the other red meat industries, delivering high-value products, is possible.”

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yana4animals9:14 pm 04 May 21

I have never read such an oxymoron article. You don’t need to be a scientist to see the damage that has occurred in the Reverses since the cull commenced over ten years. Yes folks, why doesn’t anyone mention the volume of weeds that sprout out after a day or two of rain – more now than in previous decades. Where’s the research that provides any evidence of the direct correlation between the number of kangaroos and the elusive ‘decline’ of small native species. Why are cattle placed in the same reserves where the ‘pastures’ are in such decline? Obviously, these two gents missed the 2019NYE bushfires, the impact of the floods that followed soon after and the drought the preceded these catastrophic events. FACT: Kangaroos self manage their populations and suppress breeding when conditions are harsh. With the impact of climate change, has any kangaroo hating scientist studied the impact of such environmental changes on our kangaroos? Because believe it not, they are incredibly intelligent beings and would feel the change more than we do. FACT: You can regulate or monitor groups of shooters out on the piss with load guns on private property. FACT: Its impossible to obtain the population size (absolute abundance) of kangaroos…IMPOSSIBLE.
Eighty (80) years of research between them is a joke compared to the 25-30+ million years they have existed and evolved. Seriously one-sided science.

Carolyn Drew11:15 pm 03 May 21

Such a contradiction to claiming that killing kangaroos in a more ‘managed’ way would lead to improved animal welfare outcomes as implied by Wilson and Read. Being killed is not a good welfare outcome. For any animal. And the only value farmer’s place on their animals is as money in their bank. Farms are businesses, not sanctuaries. The animals themselves are mere products (as Wilson & Read state). There is no interest or care and concern for the animals as intrinsically their own subject. Any care and concern is for the money they bring as goods to sell. This is not ‘effective animal welfare’ because it has nothing to do with ‘welfare’. Further ‘field harvesting’ is not ethical. To argue this assumes that kangaroos do not realise that family members are being shot and killed. They do. They are also very aware when they are being hunted. It also assumes those who kill kangaroos, from some distance, can kill with one bullet. There is plenty of evidence of body shots, jaws shot out to show this is not always the case. And the bashing of joeys in order to kill them after they are ripped out of their pouch, though approved by the code of practice, is not, in my estimation, very ‘ethical’. Finally why do they insist on calling it kangaroo ‘management’ – call it what it is rather than trying to hide what is happening. Kangaroo killing. Causing destruction not just of the individual but whole families.

The science doesn’t recommend policies for people to follow, for the simple reason that science merely tells us what is the case, and cannot by itself answer questions about what ought to be done. What is debatable and worthy of critical scrutiny is the decision to kill kangaroos without considering other options such as building wildlife corridors and overpasses to allow wildlife to move around the landscape and not be trapped by barbed wire fencing.

Ian MacDougall12:23 am 03 May 21

Natural culls by dingoes and other predators (and even by starvation in hard times) are in keeping and harmony with Darwinian natural slelection, and tend to take out the ‘less fit’ kangaroos. Predators and Aboriginal hunters, have a good eye for the least fit and easiest prey.
But a shooter with high-powered rifle with telescopic sight is not so constrained. The result of targeting the biggest and best can only be a slow genetic drift AWAY from such ‘fitness’. Gun-hunting at whatever scale you like can only result in a slow genetic decline of target species, and the very opposite of the selection practices of scientific stock breeding and management.

Moreover, I see no easy solution for this problem within the framework of gun-hunting, other than banning gun-hunting completely.
Spears: OK. Likewise nullanullas, hunting boomerangs and bows and arrows. But guns shorten the odds far too much in favour of the hunter, who often ‘hunts’ from inside a motor vehicle or 4WD. For the long-term welfare of the target species, gun-hunting should be completely banned.
Disclosure: I have a gun licence, and use firearms to hunt foxes, rabbits and non-native vermin on our family property. But not roos and natives.


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