19 May 2021

When it comes to kangaroo culls, is it as simple as right versus wrong?

| Zoya Patel
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An eastern grey kangaroo

This year’s cull is aiming to reduce the kangaroo population by more than 1500. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

As the colder weather starts, the annual conundrum of kangaroo population management in the ACT rears its ugly head.

It’s a divisive issue and the subject of long-term campaigns from Canberrans dedicated to protecting their beloved local mobs of kangaroos from being culled in the thousands.

I love kangaroos. In fact, I love all animals, and like many fellow Canberrans, it fills me with dread to think of thousands of innocent, wild animals being shot dead as a solution to problems that we humans have created.

But unfortunately, as the impacts of climate change become ever more evident, it’s becoming clear that population management of kangaroos is not a simple binary issue of right versus wrong. We’ve created a complex problem, and now we have to deliver a nuanced solution.

Why are kangaroos culled in the ACT? The ACT Government kangaroo management web page tells us it’s because of overgrazing. Without natural predators to keep roo populations in check, they run rampant and overgraze in our parklands, damaging ecosystems and affecting endangered flora.

READ MORE Cull of more than 1500 kangaroos defended as vital to conservation

But anti-cull activists will tell you that the research backing up that assertion is flimsy at best and that the numbers of kangaroos targeted don’t necessarily match with the extent of damage they are accused of wreaking.

And even if we all agreed that a cull is necessary, there’s the question of how roos are culled and by whom. Animal welfare assessments of past culls have pointed out that the single biggest impact on how humanely roos are killed is the skill and training of the shooter (which is highly variable). The RSPCA also points out that as well as killing adult kangaroos, shooters need to be trained in how to humanely kill joeys and pouch young after their mothers are shot.

Even just writing all of these facts makes me feel squeamish.

I completely understand why those who are the most vocally against the culls are driven to protest and disrupt the cull processes. The thought of shooters descending on unsuspecting roos in their natural environment and unleashing fear, stress and ultimately death on them is sickening.

But on the other side of the coin is the race against climate change and the impacts of overgrazing on native grasses and park ecosystems. There is enough evidence to show that overgrazing does have an impact, though blaming the roos entirely while ignoring the impact of land developments encroaching on previously wild land, the impacts of agriculture and grazing of livestock, and even the issue of invasive species like rabbits seems like a cop-out (and the research that is available from the ACT Government to validate their culls does not meaningfully address any of these additional issues).

Understandably, when faced with these opposing issues – do we save the lives of kangaroos now to the detriment of their future offspring who will starve to death? – it’s easy to feel helpless. For the majority of my adult life, I chose to see it as morally cut and dried: kangaroos are innocent and shouldn’t be killed, and that was that.

But the more I’ve grown to learn about the complexity of animal welfare, and the long-term impacts of drought and starvation on roo populations if no control measures are used, I’ve had to realise that the options aren’t just life or death, but more a humane death now for some so that others may avoid an inhumane death from starvation or traffic incidents in the future.

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Animal welfare experts will tell you that humane euthanasia is not an animal welfare issue. If an animal isn’t stressed at the point of euthanasia, and the process is carried out by a qualified and skilled professional, death can be painless. Of course, this applies a very human-centric approach to valuing life in animals (that is, assuming that physical pain is the only pain an animal feels and that there is no inherent value to the life of a healthy animal beyond the absence of pain).

But for as long as culls continue, I would rather see a focus on upskilling shooters, ensuring a low stress and humane approach, and a long-term shift to fertility control instead of focussing only on ending the shooting in its entirety.

It feels naive to expect the culls to stop anytime soon, so the biggest impacts we can have on animal welfare are to enhance the humaneness of the approach to ensure as little suffering as possible. Am I being a realist, or is it a disservice to our beautiful local kangaroos to ask for anything less than an end to the culls?

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It seems to some that a kangaroo is much more important than the other animals that will die as a result of too many kangaroos overgrazing. Crazy logic to say one animal is more important that another

Culling wildlife is rarely an effective long-term solution – which is why councils that embark on this route often find they need to do it over and over again. After 12 years of killing kangaroos in the ACT, the ‘cull’ has proved nothing except that it is inhumane and ineffective.

A 2014 CSIRO Report commissioned by the ACT Government completely debunked the ‘science’ behind the kangaroo ‘cull’.

Managing Canberra’s nature reserves should not be at the expense of killing kangaroos. There are alternative ways that this could be achieved such as building vegetated overpasses to allow people and wildlife to pass safely in and around Canberra. The sticking point is that kangaroos are Australia’s grassland managers and removing them damages the environment and impacts all the animals that rely on kangaroos.

It would be nice to read a journo who could present this cull of 1.5k in Canberra conservation reserves in the perspective of annually: 14k killed on Canberra roads; 20k licenced to be shot by ACT farmers; 2M shot nationally for export of skins and meat; and unknown numbers shot nationally by farmers reducing competition for pasture.

The Canberra region along with parts of NSW and Vic is bioclimatically exceptional in the high density of kangaroos that it can support. On top of that is the city design with masses of corridors used by kangaroos, and abundant grassland parks and reserves with no grazing competitors and the only ‘predation’ from motor cars and humans.

Shooting is the answer and in the ACT every shooter (farmers and government contractors alike) is tested biennially with astonishingly difficult target accuracy and macropod ID tests. The shooting season is timed when most pouch young are at the stage before they are capable of pain perception, but they must be killed humanely as if they were fully sentient in any case. To be blunt, the claims about widespread suffering are a beat up.

I don’t think the focus should be on upskilling shooters or fertility control – instead I’d like to see wildlife corridors so kangaroos can move more freely, a move away from animal agriculture and grazing in the ACT and the planting of more native grasses (and end to expanding the ACT’s footprint out). We need to also stop culling dingos or “wild dogs” because farmers don’t like them knocking off their sheep – we need our native predators to keep populations in check. Same as having sharks in the ocean. It’s a shame that human’s desire for meat and dairy (e.g. grazing livestock) comes at such a huge cost to our native species and ecosystems.

Roos have slow gestations periods, with only one young per year. They are being killed quicker than they can reproduce.

There are far fewer roos now than there were before white settlement in the ACT. This area used to be absolutely thronging with roos. The cull and fertility measures, regardless of how good the shot, are just another route to extinction.

Well said. Thank you. We should be cutting down on introduced grazing animals like cows and sheep in order to ensure the survival of our native animals.

The culls are a necessary part of proper environmental management, in which we should attempt to minimise the impacts caused by excessive animal populations that affect delicate ecosystems and other species of endangered flora and fauna.

The problem with those against the cull is that they either want to ignore or are ignorant of the flow on effects kangaroos have to other animals and plants.

Opposing the cull doesn’t mean animals won’t die, it just means that humans won’t be the direct cause of their deaths. Why is that a reasonable or moral position to take? Because kangaroos are cuter, they should get better protections?

The cull is the sensible and humane environmental option.

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