Dr Hugh Lavery
Centre for the Environment
Queensland University of Technology
The recent argument that synthetic leathers contribute to sustainability is yet another misleading comment is the long saga of “kangaroo management” in Australia.
Despite allegations ranging through official management pest control to animal cruelty, nothing has stopped the main species from overrunning both the natural and pastoral countryside – especially in the vast Northeastern quarter of the Australian continent.
Now, after 65 years of dedicated field research in this principal area of kangaroo diversity, abundance and harvest, the facts are evident and incontrovertible:
- A majority of the 75 species of the kangaroo family occur in the sovereign state of Queensland, where a statutory conservation focus has been required to be maintained because of the unique and iconic nature of this wildlife. There, species range from the superabundant eastern grey (forester) kangaroo – one of the world’s most successful native animals – to scarce small species about which almost nothing is known scientifically. The attitude to the larger species in the field nowadays is almost universally as “vermin”.
- A century-long “kangaroo industry” – one of the largest terrestrial native animal harvests in the world – has been subsumed in more recent years by vaguely-tolerated ‘pest control’, that pays no attention to the consequences. The reality is that, despite the existence of an official “management plan”, a slaughter of unspecified kangaroo species of incalculable magnitude is occurring throughout the inland. The industry is in decline; in any event, its management is based on a federally-dictated quota system – estimated from expensive aerial surveys of questionable accuracy.
- Development of a method of precise ageing of kangaroos (by way of molar progression) has allowed the age profile – and hence health – of populations to be accurately represented in large and widespread samples of animals harvested annually
- Population modelling has demonstrated no lasting effect of harvesting anywhere in the state. What is happening out of sight of the urban community (including government) is a shameful wastage of the world’s finest leather and one of its healthiest red meats. This is not only at the cost of management that is impossible to police in the vast outback but also at the cost of encouraging cattle and sheep. It should be noted that there is no possible likelihood that kangaroo meat will displace domesticated livestock products such as cattle and sheep/lamb.
- The argument that kangaroos should not be culled because shooting is “cruel” totally ignores reality. While, in good seasons, the eastern grey kangaroo overpopulates both its natural habitat and that cleared by the pastoral industry, the population nevertheless reduces drastically from starvation during periodic extreme droughts. This often involves the eviction of pouch young by female parents and the starvation of sub-adults, protracted mortality that is demonstrably more inhumane.
- Because of its remarkable reproductive capacity, surviving populations recover quickly. Such population cycles are readily visible. “Signal points” highlighted in the population models denote times for official management plan review – in the unlikely event that these points might appear (once in the past 65 years in a small region of the state).
A re-oriented grey kangaroo management cull
Culling of the larger species by strictly-regulated procedures, to within sustainable limits – clearly signalled by ongoing computer modelling of prescribed harvest samples – can yield royalties that should be allocated for research of those many smaller species about which no management paper has yet been published.
Such a cull is consistent with modern international practice in wildlife management – culling of populations, including females, is now standard in large and long-standing harvest programs of the white-tailed deer (“Bambi”) in North America, for example.
No approach to an official kangaroo management cull can be successfully undertaken without some formal guarantees about time (that is, decade-long plans) and space (that is, Queensland-wide). Otherwise, there exists a risk of overexploitation – when harsh conditions reduce kangaroo numbers to only the virile section of the population.
If pre-determined signal points do appear in the population models, culling must cease immediately until the situation is reviewed and its resumption is justified by way of the population profile.
Dr Hugh Lavery was a founding Director of Research & Planning in the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service and later the long-time Executive Counsel to Australia’s largest pastoral landholders. He is Editor of The Kangaroo Keepers (UQ Press, 1985) and Kangaroos: A Long-term Population Study (AEI, 2019).