31 May 2022

Where do kangaroos go when they die? And other facts about Canberra's conservation cull

| James Coleman
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An eastern grey kangaroo

Nine parks and reverses will be closed overnight during culling period from 23 May to 31 July. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

CONTENT WARNING This story may distress some readers.

“As large as a greyhound, of a mouse colour and very swift.”

So said Joseph Banks, the scientist aboard Captain James Cook’s Endeavour, one of the first British explorers to lay eyes on Australia’s icon.

Here in the Bush Capital, we might not think anything of them. Certainly, we have some of the highest density populations of Eastern Grey Kangaroos recorded anywhere in Australia (up to 700 per square kilometre in the Jerrabomberra Valley alone).

READ MORE ACT will start culling more than 1500 kangaroos across nine nature reserves from tonight

But too many can be a problem. Historically, concerns about an overabundance of kangaroos were related to competition for pasture with livestock, which remains the case today. Kangaroos compete for water and damage fencing and fodder crops. Not to mention the havoc they can wreak on the front end of your car.

All of this is why the ACT Government announced another cull for 2022. Around 1650 eastern grey kangaroos will be culled across nine nature reserves from 23 May to 31 July in the annual conservation program.

Here’s what’s involved.

Painting of kangaroo cull

A painting by George French Angas depicting Kangaroo hunting near Port Lincoln, South Australia, in 1847. Image: National Library of Australia.

How are they culled?

All Australian Governments and RSPCA Australia agree – a single headshot is the most humane method of culling.

The ACT Government contracts licenced gun holders every year to do the job, but before they can take a loaded weapon anywhere near a nature reserve, they must pass three tests.

These include a marksmanship test to determine their accuracy, a macropod identification test to make sure they can identify the right species, and a knowledge test on the National Code of Practice.

Another method called ‘capture-darting’ is used when a kangaroo population is too close to housing to get a safe shot. This involves catching the kangaroo and administering a lethal injection.

READ MORE ACT to use kangaroo contraceptives for population control, but culls to continue

To minimise the chance of orphaning joeys, the culling of female kangaroos in the ACT is restricted to the period between 1 March and 31 July each year. This is outside the time when most females have large dependent pouch young or young-at-foot.

The Code of Practice stipulates that any young-at-foot obviously paired with an adult kangaroo are to be shot. In general, during the ACT culling season, pouch young of dead kangaroos are small and unfurred. These are also euthanised.

In April, the ACT Government committed $300,000 towards what Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti describes as a “more humane” approach.

From now on, traditional culling will be accompanied by contraceptives to slow population growth. Darts loaded with the drug GonaCon will be fired at adult female roos. Trials have seen about 80 per cent remain infertile five years after their injection.

Kangaroos

Kangaroos enjoying a night-out in Civic during lockdown. Photo: Umair Rehmat.

What happens to the carcasses?

They aren’t left out to rot.

A proportion of the carcasses will be turned into baits in the government’s wild dog and fox control programs. Other parts are made available for Indigenous cultural use. It’s understood, however, that the bulk goes to landfill.

Unlike NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, there are no commercial kangaroo harvesting arrangements in the ACT. This rules out companies selling off our kangaroo carcasses as meat or skin products.

The ACT Government says this is due to the relatively low number of kangaroos being culled and the high costs of overseeing a commercial operation.

READ ALSO Rising costs create ‘perfect storm’ for women leaving relationships

How do they know how many to cull?

Each year, ACT Government ecologists undertake an extensive scientific assessment of grass conditions and the kangaroo population at each of the Territory’s nature reserves.

A sustainable target number of kangaroos can be calculated for each site using this data. By comparing this number with the current population, they arrive at the number of kangaroos that have to go.

This figure is dictated by several studies outlining the effects of kangaroos on the environment.

Collared kangaroos

Tagged kangaroos as part of the ACT Government’s contraceptive trial. Photo: File.

How often are they culled?

Every year. On average, culling less often than that requires more animals to be killed per year.

Kangaroo populations grow exponentially, meaning the number of new animals will be greater next year than it is this year. To cull less often is worse for animal welfare and impact reduction and usually costs more.

The cull is only conducted at night when the reserves are formally closed to the public. Warning signs are placed at all entry points to the reserves, surveillance cameras are used and reserves are patrolled by Parks and Conservation Service staff during operations to maximise public safety.

As always, if you see injured wildlife, call Access Canberra on 13 22 81 and a ranger will attend as soon as possible.

The Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate declined to make further comment until after the cull is concluded on 31 July 2022.

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Certainly would be open to more transparency and accountability from the ACT government about monitoring and managing kangaroo population. The culling is unnecessary, unsustainable and cruel. The fertility management option is most welcomed, and can there be other solutions to manage the roo population? Aren’t the natural predators now replaced with natural disasters (prolonged drought, floods and bushfires). Last year alone there was a mass die-off of roos, probably due to disease. Some areas are now completely devoid of marsupials because of bush fires. Every Australian has grown up with abundant wildlife, so we take it for granted, but much is vanishing. Culling is not sustainable.

Some of the pro kangaroo lobby are similar to the anti vaxxers & QAnon mob.

They have their own reality. They ignore any scientific evidence that refutes their ideology.

Improved pastures & water supplies means there are millions more roos now than in 1788. If you doubt that just do a lap around Australia.

But we aren’t talking about the rest of Australia.. we are talking about just a few reserves, in the ACT. If you have been out often, you would know the numbers don’t add up.. Why would they need to put cows in after to graze, if there wasn’t enough food?

There’s no scientific basis for the cull to run for 12 years. The last review around 8 years ago conducted by a CSIRO scientist found that the cull was not necessary.

The ACT government can’t even tell the community how may kangaroos are left.

How can they argue they are “over abundant” when they don’t even know how many are left?

Its a pretty basic question don’t you think?

The ACT Government is fond of portraying anyone who questions what they are doing as extremists of some sort when in reality we are just regular citizens who are concerned about what we are seeing.

We live in a democracy and as such we have the right to question the government’s actions.

I enjoy seeing Greens voters confronted by the same hypocrisy, dishonesty, betrayal and double standards that everyone else has had to suffer from because of the people they voted for.

I won’t be voting Labor or Greens in the next ACT election. Bring on the independents. Th Federal election shows what can happen to arrogant and complacent governments.

What a biased and one sided “article”.

How does the ACT Greens/ Labor government justify another cull on top of 12 years of culling when they DO NOT KNOW how many kangaroos are left?

I have asked them on more than one occasion and they don’t seem to be able to answer. It is not good enough.

So far the government has killed 28,000 kangaroos and 7,000 in pouch joeys. Sadly the numbers are even higher when you consider the at-foot joeys who die from starvation, stress and dehydration after being separated from their mothers.

Most Canberrans would be horrified when confronted with the full picture of the ACT’s kangaroo cull.

There are more kangaroos today than there was before settlement, we cleared the land producing millions of acres of grazing lands, we put dams and water where it never existed and we took away the main predators that kept the numbers in check. They will continue breeding as long as there is grass and water available and starve to death during long droughts, that’s how nature works, we destroyed the natural balance so its up to us to keep it in check. A bullet to the head is more humane than starvation during hard times.

Interesting. So how is it even possible to know that? Did they undertake nationwide surveys of the kangaroo population back in 1788?

Agree that humans have destroyed the natural balance – but this is not the kangaroos fault.

The joeys don’t get a bullet. They get hit on the head, or hit against the ground or a tree.

The at-foot joeys that manage to escape may die of hunger, thirst, exposure, stress : (

What a complete load of hogwash. The cruel massacre of kangaroos by this callous ACT Labor/Greens Government has nothing to do with caring for the environment and everything to do with urban DEVELOPMENT. Every year after the massacre a new development appears near the nature reserves targeted. The suburbs of Lawson, Googong and Molongo to name just a few. This year’s budget of $2.1m could be better spent on building a series of overpasses to allow our precious wildlife to cross through Canberra safely.

Oh please, spare us your eco warrior sentiment! Kangaroos are not an endangered species and their over population is entirely due to human intervention. If it was just nature on its own, the entire of the ACT would be wiped out in the 2003 bushfire. Instead, we’ve created national parks, reserves and food forests and allowed certain species such as possums to multiply unchecked. This isn’t natural, the forces of nature include fire, drought and flood that kill animals.

This has got to be the most ridiculous take ever. Kangaroos are not endangered and they do significant damage to other areas of the environment that need protection. If you value biodiversity and care about the environment, you’d be supportive of the cull. But unfortunately, too many people think that the only things we should protect are animals that are “cute”.

I am curious to see the Canberra-wide series of overpasses which will be built with a contribution of $2.1m. Who is supposed to use them though, us or the kangaroos?

Have you been out to the areas and seen a count? Numbers aren’t there to support the cull. Also im curious why you believe a native animal, that has existed in the environment is causing damage to it, enough to justify a cull? AS it seems quite contradictory that after a cull, they introduce cows to graze? surely the cow, not native and hoofed causes more damage to the eco system, than a roo, soft feet and native?

Agree with Cbricho. There’s no evidence kangaroos are creating environmental damage in Canberra. I’m also puzzled as to why the ACT government clears out the kangaroos and then brings in cattle to keep the grass down and puts up signs saying “Eco – grazing” as though the public cant work out for themselves that….
cows are eating grass which is what cows do!

Chewy14 – please tell us what the population of kangaroos in the ACT is, as the government is unable to. Being cute is irrelevant. Kangaroos have a place in the eco system like all of the other creatures.

Also, I take it you realise that other species are being killed during the culls, such as wallaroos and wallabies?

Where do kangaroos that die of natural causes go to die? I ask because I can only remember ever seeing the odd rare kangaroo skeleton…..scattered or otherwise.

I see plenty lying on the side of the road. Think they go to die in the emergency lane.

Carcasses used for “wild dog” bait. Theres virtually no wild dogs, 99% of “Wild Dogs” are native dingoes, apex predators that are needed to keep healthy biodiversity and things like roo numbers down. No “wild dogs” DINGOES should be killed in the ACT. Namadgi National park has. person who’s sole job is killing these native animals. It is outrageous.

there are no pure bred dingoes in the Namadi hasnt been for decades, even if they look like dingoes their skull, eye placement and jaw structure is different because of breeding with domestic dogs and the dingo gene pool is gone. these wild dogs kill sheep and even attack horses and ponies causing terrible injuries where they have to be euthanised. They bite calves in the rump and legs as they try to flee only to die from infection because of the bacteria in the dogs mouth. the only pure bred dingoes are found on Fraser Island and possibly a few along the dog fence between South Oz and WA. YOUR ARGUMENT IS FALSE EMOTIONAL BS.

Whitney Anders9:28 am 01 Jun 22

Evan you clearly know nothing about dingoes. Studies have shown that most ‘wild dogs’ are in fact pure bred or dingo dominant hybrids. You can easily find this information and all studies via a quick Google search. Your argument is actually false emotional BS.

That’s completely false, the vast majority of what the government calls “wild dogs” have actually been proven to be pure dingoes.. The dingo gene pool is vastly different to dogs and science has shown the populations in Australia to be pure. You can find pure bred dingoes in the snowies, in the NT, in QLD, IN VIC. Farmers are responsible for more stock death then any dingos could ever do. Science is not an emotional argument, it involved testing DNA samples.. Sorry to tell you, your thinking is simply outdated and archaic. It’s used to justify the constant baiting and killing of one of the most important animals we have our largest APEX predator.

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