Kangaroos & Wallabies

Posted on 06/14/10 in , No Comments

‘It’s embarrassing for Australia that we eat our wildlife. I’m here to tell you it’s not right … simply do not buy, use or eat kangaroo products.’ Steve Irwin

 

The AJP Position

 

The AJP will offer a fresh and enlightened approach to animals by designing policies and regulations that respect kangaroos, wallabies and other macropods for their intrinsic worth and help maintain their basic needs, instead of seeing them merely as ‘resources’ or ‘pests’.

 

AJP Policy Objectives

 

The AJP is appalled at the disregard exhibited by all governments towards the kangaroo and wallaby and will actively work to:

•           outlaw the commercial killing of kangaroo and wallabies and close down processing industries

•           oppose the negative culture towards kangaroos and wallabies and inform rural landowners of their considerable ecological benefit

•           review and change relevant wildlife legislation, policies and the agencies that administer them that directly enable brutality towards and killing of kangaroos and wallabies

•            increase and enforce penalties for wildlife cruelty

•           bring a sense of balance to conservation practices that unfairly and unethically target kangaroos and wallabies.

•            eradicate the perception of kangaroos and wallabies as a ‘resource’ or ‘pest’

•            encourage increased growth in and support for wildlife-based tourism in Australia

•           review the policies for licensing and the operational practices of wildlife caring and rehabilitation groups and individuals

ban the use of barbed wire fencing in rural residential areas where it is a hazard to macropods as well as birds and bats.

AJP Policy Goals

 

The Animal Justice Party will:

 

1.              Ban all kangaroo and wallaby slaughter (including the commercial industry and destruction permits for farmers and government ‘culls’) except where animals are deemed by a specialist wildlife vet to be irreversibly injured or sick.

2.              Build a robust kangaroo tourism industry, since kangaroos are one of the most recognised Australian icons in the world and have more economic value to tourism than from the sale of their meat and hides ($5.5 billion,versus $250 million).

3.              Educate the public, students and bureaucrats about the ecological benefits kangaroos bring to Australia and what gentle, affectionate and unique creatures they are.

4.              Root out the myths that kangaroos and wallabies are in plague proportions and are a pest, replacing these myths with models for sustainable nature-based tourism that instead celebrates our faunal heritage.

5.              Expose those aspects of the conservation movement that encourage cruelty toward kangaroos, wallabies and other macropods to support their case (often for research funding).

6.              Teach farmers how to implement non-lethal methods to protect their crops if they feel they are being impacted on by kangaroos.

7.              Buy land from landholders in areas where wildlife corridors are needed for kangaroos to traverse to safe locations.

8.              Provide tourists with genuine opportunities to see mobs of kangaroos in the wild and reward rural property owners who have ‘home stay’ programs for such visitors.

9.              Support programs that work with landowners to obtain Nature Conservation Trust covenants on their land.

10.           Subsidise rural landowners to replace barbed wire and other wildlife-unfriendly fencing.

11.           Train wildlife carer groups in the best practices of macropod care, including successful relocation techniques.

12.           Fund more wildlife hospitals, staffed by skilled personnel, especially in areas where native animals are often injured..

13.           Mandate overpasses, underpasses and exclusion fences and wildlife corridors for new developments where kangaroos and other wildlife live, along with more road signs warning people to slow down at dawn and dusk and drive carefully in road kill hotspot areas.

14.           Increase and enforce penalties for the killing of macropods in any way other than accidentally.

15.           Require all dogs to be walked on leashes in areas in which kangaroos and other native animals live.

This AJP policy should be read in association with the following other policy:

  • Wildlife

Supporting arguments

That Australian governments can condone, financially support and even actively participate in the brutal killing of the kangaroo, a gentle, inoffensive, iconic native animal that has resided in this land for 16 million years, is nothing short of an international disgrace and is blatantly un-Australian.

The moral worth of Australian society may be judged by the pervasive culture of cruelty and disregard shown towards the kangaroo and the wallaby.  It is no less significant than the cruelty shown toward whales, dolphins, elephants and seals in other countries and mirrors the often disregard shown towards the disabled, the homeless, the aged, the mentally ill and other vulnerable members of our society.

The cruelty meted out to the kangaroo and the wallaby by Australian governments is typical of a utilitarian attitude to minorities and the abandonment of values of kindness and  compassion. That these same governments are unresponsive to the international condemnation of their disregard for the lives of these ‘protected’ native species, while at the same time flagrantly and cynically using the kangaroo as a marketing tool to sell this country and its products, is hypocrisy in its basest form, an affront to Australian heritage and a key motivation for the formation of the AJP.

Not only does the kangaroo and wallaby have to contend with extensive loss of habitat to commercial and urban development and farming, drought, bushfires, floods, death on our roads and as a result of wild dog attacks, it is being decimated by a despicable regime of government-supported killing. It is abhorrent that Australian governments underwrite a pathetic, unethical, thuggish, unviable and poorly regulated kangaroo and wallaby killing industry that impacts negatively on the economy and the environment. It is no wonder that Australia holds the unenviable world’s worst record of mammal extinctions, having driven 38 per cent of mammal species to extinction in just 230 years1.

The kangaroo is the victim of the largest slaughter of land-based mammals on the planet. In the last decade Federal and State governments have approved a commercial kill of four to six million kangaroos and wallabies each year. On average, three million kangaroos are commercially slaughtered each year. Approximately one million kangaroo joey infants are either killed or left to die each year. In addition, up to 200,000 kangaroos and wallabies are killed for non-commercial reasons each year. These numbers do not include those killed by gun-toting entertainment-seeking ‘weekend warriors’, landowners without permission, or licensed shooters who kill many more animals than their licence allows.  There is no real policing of kangaroo killing by the relevant authorities, or by many well-funded and supposedly influential animal welfare agencies.

In our view there are far more worthwhile, innovative and creative rural ventures of a sustainable and ethical nature that should be supported in this country, rather than continuing to support one that is based on making a relatively small amount of money from the daily misery brought to this globally iconic, unique and gentle animal.

 

Myths and realities about kangaroos and wallabies

  • Kangaroos are in plentiful supply and therefore kangaroo killing can be regarded as a sustainable practice utilising a renewable resource.

The evidence does not support this myth. Kangaroos have been killed to such an extent that they now only survive in small pockets close to residences where shooting is not legally permitted.  Despite the fact that estimated kangaroo populations have crashed by more than 50 per cent since 20012 quotas for the commercial kangaroo industry remain high even though these quotas are never met because there are not enough kangaroos left. Government agencies responsible for wildlife ‘protection’ have provided kangaroo killing licences to institutions and individuals on the back of thin and erroneous evidence and at huge public expense. The kangaroo’s critical ecosystem services over the last 16 million years have mitigated bush fires and regenerated wild grasses and shrubs3. Kangaroos do not compete with livestock for food and water4 and exert minimal grazing pressure5.

By targeting the largest animals, the kangaroo killing industry has altered the social structure of the kangaroo population.  The average size of the kangaroo is now only 20-22kg (equivalent to 18-36 months of age) 6.In 2007 it was found that 80 per cent of kangaroos being killed were females7, meaning that kangaroos are being forced towards extinction8. Government reports and statistics show that the kangaroo industry is not sustainable and no data exist to show it is not harming the species or their ecosystem9.

  • Kangaroos are overabundant and destroy natural grasslands and the habitat of other threatened species that rely on these grasslands for their survival. It is argued that killing kangaroos supports biodiversity and reduces environmental damage.

This is a myth perpetuated by some ecologists, governments that view the kangaroo as a resource, and those in the kangaroo killing industry.  The argument has no causal science-based evidence to support it, only thin data based on simple association. The reality is that by killing kangaroos, soils and grasslands lose tonnes of minerals, protein, carbohydrate and calcium gently deposited by the kangaroo to enhance plant growth and fertilise the soil, as they have been doing in this land for 16 million years. There is mounting scientific evidence that kangaroos have a positive impact on the environment and the biodiversity of grasslands. Grasses and plants have evolved to take competitive advantage of using kangaroos to distribute their seeds and spore.  Without the presence of kangaroos more species will become extinct. Any argument that the killing of the kangaroo is important for conservation simply suggests that conservation in the hands of some is a cover for animal cruelty and a ruse to obtain farmer support, when the reality is that any reduction in kangaroo numbers negatively impacts on soil productivity.

  • The kangaroo killing industry supports rural employment.

The evidence does not support this myth.  Having been propped up by a huge government subsidy (to cover the costs of ‘training’, using aircraft to estimate kangaroo numbers and supporting a licensing bureaucracy) this industry has questionable safety and food health standards, erratic supply, is unethical and cruel in its methods, uses the lowest of skills, is not value adding, and is reliant on an export market that makes the processed product uncompetitive with other meat products when the Australian dollar has a high exchange rate.  Any rural community that sees its future as dependent on the kangaroo killing industry is setting its economic sustainability sights too low, is satisfied with a highly unskilled local labour force,  is irresponsibly putting itself in an increasingly vulnerable economic situation globally and supporting an unethical industry.

Wildlife tourism contributes many times any income generated by wildlife killing and meat processing. Between $2.7 and $5.5 billion of the $71.3 billion tourism industry results from wildlife tourism, with kangaroos the most popular attraction10. The Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre (STCRC) says 67.5 per cent of all international tourists want to see native animals, but most are disappointed not to see them in the wild, only in zoos. The benefits of tourism are spread across a wide spectrum of society (food and accommodation alone employ over 410,589 people), whereas the few million dollars made by the kangaroo killing industry remain in the hands of an unethical few.

  • The commercial kangaroo and wallaby killing industry claims it adds net value to the Australian economy

.

There is no evidence to support this myth.  Indeed it can more easily be proven that this industry is highly subsidised by Federal and State Governments at direct cost to rural landowners.

There are substantial public costs in monitoring kangaroo populations, setting kangaroo killing quotas, administering the issuing of killing tags, licensing shooters, inspecting chillers, prosecuting breaches,  issuing fines, etc.  There are additional costs to taxpayers in the form of significant industry grants for hygiene training, ‘research and development’, advertising and promotion of the kangaroo killing programme by government departments, etc.

McLeod (2004), reported in Olsen and Low (2006), has argued there are private costs to rural landowners due to kangaroo and wallaby grazing through crop loss, sheep and cattle loss, damage to fencing and collisions with vehicles (Situation Analysis Final, 2006, p70) in the kangaroo killing zones across Australia.  However these private costs to rural landowners, if they can be substantiated, amount to only three cents per week for every kangaroo killed. These miniscule private costs to rural landowners are far outweighed by the loss of soil productivity due to the killing of the kangaroos.  Kangaroos contribute to soil and grassland vitality by spreading seed and through the deposition of tonnes of minerals, protein, carbohydrate and calcium.

  • Farming kangaroos will help to address carbon emissions and climate change as the methane output and water input is much less for a kangaroo than for cattle and sheep.

The evidence does not support this myth. There has been no credible scientific comparative analysis of the methane output of kangaroos in their natural unconfined state.  Kangaroos are wild animals that free range over large distances to ensure an appropriate diet, robust gene pool and protection from the elements.  Clearly their physiology cannot be compared with that of cattle or sheep.  They have other purposes on this land. They cannot be farmed or contained successfully. When in a captured and stressful situation their metabolism is altered.  Apart from the awful deeds and disregard of some humans, the biggest killer of kangaroos is stress.  Kangaroos are highly susceptible to stress resulting from various causes (poor nutrition, capture, containment, fright and fear, separation).  Any farming of kangaroos is a denial of freedom to cover distance when there is a need to, denial of grassland grazing, denial of kin association, and a major imposer of stress. It is therefore a cruel and unworkable practice.

If every meat-eating Australian ate one kangaroo meal just once a week it would require 90 million kangaroos to be slaughtered every year – four times the number that currently exist.

  • Kangaroo meat is healthy and good for you.

The evidence does not support this myth11. Kangaroos and wallabies can harbour a range of parasites and bacterial, fungal and viral diseases. Up to 50 per cent of kangaroos harbour salmonella.

Furthermore, there are viral epidemics following heavy rain and floods that since the 1950s have wiped out up to 80 per cent of kangaroo populations in particular areas but we have no understanding of what this virus is, or its impact on human health. More studies are needed to identify disease agents in wild native fauna and their transmissibility to humans. Australia has no dedicated research or diagnostic facility to investigate wildlife diseases. The Australian Wildlife Health Network only reports on wildlife health activities.

Meat inspectors cannot see a kangaroo prior to death to determine if it is sick. Unless samples are taken for testing, infection will not be detected. Undercooked kangaroo meat can cause severe health problems if eaten by humans. Canada, Russia and Italy have banned the importation of kangaroo meat.

The hygiene standards surrounding the production of kangaroo meat do not meet Australian or European standards, nor are they ever likely to, as the kangaroos are killed unmonitored in the bush in variable conditions and chillers are notoriously unhygienic.

  • The kangaroo killing industry applies animal welfare practices

This is an extraordinary and arrogant myth perpetrated by Australian governments and the kangaroo killing industry.  According to Dr Dror Ben Ami12, 40 per cent of kangaroos found in chillers were not head shot, but a much higher percentage is likely as many body-shot kangaroos would be left in the field to rot, uncounted because they are inadmissible to chillers. Government policy requires a clean head shot and animals who suffered body wounds would have died slowly and in agony.

According to an ex-shooter: ‘The mouth of a kangaroo can be blown off and the kangaroo can escape to die of stress, infection and starvation after several days of excruciating pain. 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 pulverized to an unrecognisable state 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.’13

,According to the National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Commercial Purposes14 in-pouch kangaroo joeys are brutally killed by the kangaroo shooters by delivering a sharp blow to the base of the skull or decapitation with a knife. In practice, in-pouch joeys are bashed to death against a truck or with a metal pipe, or stomped to death. While the code specifies at-heel joeys to be head or heart shot, in practice many are left without the protection of, and nourishment from, their mothers and subsequently die of starvation or hypothermia, or are killed by predators. Joey deaths are estimated at up to one million every year. It is a matter of great shame to Australia that we treat our national icon with such extreme cruelty and still call it ‘humane’.

Finally, there is a psychosocial impact on the health and rights of all the humans who in many rural and semi-rural districts are subjected to the sound and possible danger of kangaroo shooting around their homes, and the distress of finding wounded and suffering abandoned victims, without any support from (or intervention by) police, animal welfare and other responsible agencies. Many humans, even in urban areas, feel the stress of simply being aware that kangaroos are being killed in their neighbourhood without having to hear any gunshots. Feeling distressed, unsafe and powerless in theirown homes, many of these people are forced to seek health assessment and support.

References:

  1. http://www.smh.com.au/news/specials/environment/building-a-second-ark/2008/02/22/1203467390101.html (page 2)
  2. http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/trade-use/wild-harvest/kangaroo/population/index.html
  3. http://www.nokangaroomeat.org
  4. http://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/WR9740027.htm
  5. http://www.environment.gov.au/soe/2006/publications/drs/indicator/162/index.html
  6. http://www.australiansocietyforkangaroos.org/decimation.html
  7. http://www.kangaroo-protection-coalition.com/kangaroo-facts.html
  8. Laverty, H.J., The Kangaroo Keepers
  9. http://www.environment.gov.au/soe/2006/publications/report/index.html
  10. http://www.rootourism.com/k_tourism.htm

11.  http://thinkkangaroos.uts.edu.au/issues/hygiene

12.  Ben-Ami, Dror, A Shot in the Dark: A Report on Kangaroo Harvesting (Report prepared for Animal Liberation NSW, 2009), Appendix 1

13.  Nicholls, David, ‘The Kangaroo – Falsely Maligned by Tradition’ in Maryland Wilson and David B. Croft (eds), Kangaroos – Myths and Realities (2005) pp 33- 38.

14.  http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/trade-use/wild-harvest/kangaroo/practice.html

www.wildlifehealth.org.au/AWHN/Forum/ListForum.aspx

Olsen and Low, 2006. Situation Analysis Report: Update on Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Kangaroos in the Environment, Including Ecological and Economic Impact and the Effect of Culling. Report for the Kangaroo Management Advisory Panel, NSW.