“If such a simple outcome as retrieving the Kangaroo from being a wrongly accused enemy in its own country, treated as vermin in such a despicably cruel manner with no place to hide, cannot be achieved by such a prosperous, educated and secure civilisation as Australia, then what hope for the planet?”
— former kangaroo shooter David Nicholls told me in the course of research for a book on Australia’s deadly relationship with its wildlife since settlement.
EARLY EUROPEAN SETTLERS routinely cleared out all the wildlife while they cleared out all the trees to have maximum grass for their millions of imported sheep. That was followed by a period of bounties plus the fur trade targeting native marsupials. Modern Australia now ranks amongst the top tier of recent world mammalian extinctions.
The surviving common species of marsupials, particularly the macropods, ie kangaroos and wallabies, are constantly in the gun sights for very much those colonial reasons.
Kangaroos since the 1950s have also been subject to the world’s biggest terrestrial wildlife slaughter for skins and meat that is badged as an aid to graziers as well as a private, profit-making business.
Governments promote this bloody trade as a must-have Australian export of ‘resources’. Australians can feel noble about decrying commercial whale and seal hunting by other nations, but ignore what is happening in our own ‘outback’, even back yard.
Never mind extinction crisis, kill more kangaroos
So on a day when the United Nations released the latest report on global animal extinctions — that threatens climate-level repercussions for ecosystems, agriculture and human well-being — along comes the ACT Parks Administration, led by Daniel Iglesias, announcing the national capital’s biggest kangaroo cull since this ‘pilot’ killing program’ started in 2009.
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Four thousand Canberra kangaroos face a bullet. In the process many are not killed outright, baby joeys are bashed to death, and at-foot joeys either shot or abandoned to die more slowly of starvation, car strike or fox kill. Clue to the rhetoric: these outcomes are OK with the ACT welfare code as long as environmental protection is given as a goal.
The attack on the Territory’s kangaroos continues in 2019 as in neighbouring NSW a similar post-colonial eradication push is underway.
Starting last September the NSW Liberals and Nationals directed the state’s National Parks service to administer a kangaroo-killing program ‘to help the farmers in the drought’, but with no resources to monitor, vet or oversee it — essentially signalling kill what you want. No-one talks about the safety aspects for neighbouring life and property either.
NSW and ACT operate these killing fields under cover of darkness — no-one without a stake in the killing outcome is present.
Rescuers report horrible wounding from miss-shots. Reports of extreme cruelty to innocent wildlife have appeared on local social media sites, recently Carwoola, reflecting on the government’s open season signals.
Like some tribal magic offering, might the killing be aimed to make it rain or atone for bad long-term land management?
Poll does not support ACT government claims of public happiness
In Canberra, an ABC network social media poll went up the day after the government’s cull announcement. It achieved more than 17,000 reactions in 24 hours to the question ‘do you support kangaroo culling’. The final vote to this straw poll was 53% NO and 47% YES — enough to win a federal election.
The comments section was the most telling. Hundreds of posts gave good reasons (from ethics, to anti-cruelty, to better options like eco-tourism) why the ACT cull is reprehensible and incomprehensible to many citizens.
“This (neighbouring) mob are a family, with 3 babies this year,
and yesterday they were forcefully removed to Mt Majura to be culled.
One post was heart-breaking. Nancy from North Watson wrote: “We have a little mob of roos living on a vacant block in North Watson for the 22 years I’ve enjoyed their company. Although the numbers have changed throughout the seasons, with the instinctive urge for males to leave, and in response to previously vacant land being developed, the fluctuations disappear over time leaving a mob of just a dozen or so there permanently.
“This mob are a family, with 3 babies this year, and yesterday they were forcefully removed to Mt Majura to be culled. (Just breaks my heart and the thought of unborn joeys being so inhumanely destroyed brings me to tears. They’ve been left alone for 22 years and managed to stay its population growth to a size the block can support without needing culling.”
From my coverage of the bloody-minded ACT culls over the years, such trauma is not uncommon for ACT suburban citizens. In 2016 I reported on the experience in the suburb of Isaacs when they wiped out the resident kangaroos that had delighted householders and visitors there for many years.
Isaacs suburb experienced same misery in 2016
“Christine Stevens said she and her family have walked Isaacs Ridge for 30 years and knew the families of kangaroos and found no greater number of kangaroos now than at any other time in the past 30 years.
“We have had kangaroos coming into our suburb for all those years to graze on our lawns. They are the perfect lawnmower. Never eating too low, nor up-rooting grasses and their soft feet never break the ground unlike horses, cattle, sheep. Those of us who have walked upon the ridge several times each week for 30 years can testify that kangaroos are not overpopulating Isaacs Ridge, nor causing stress to the grasslands nor to themselves.”
Stevens reported on the bullying behaviour of the government’s contract killers to herself walking on the ridge in the late afternoon. She also gave her analysis that this wipe-out had nothing to do with saving endangered species or biodiversity on the ridge. The land was already heavily degraded and was being prepped by the ACT administration for a mountain-bike course.
Follow the votes and money trail
Putting houses on wildlife habitat, and keeping parks pumped with million dollar cull budget
According to the Animal Justice Party (AJP), the ACT administration’s continuing destruction of Australia’s national emblem in the national capital is about votes (farmers and people who worry about kangaroo/car encounters) and it’s about development. I suspect a very healthy cull budget, Canberra tax money at work, might also be an incentive.
(Note: the AJP has candidates for the senate in the upcoming federal election for people who want to send a message.)
In north Watson, not coincidentally, there are new housing subdivisions springing up on what was once kangaroo habitat across from Mount Majura, a sanctuary where the animals will now be hunted. ACT Labor, Liberal and Greens politicians have all bowed to the narrative about saving endangered species, or saving the kangaroos from starvation by killing them (an uninformed propaganda argument that is being recycled in this drought).
Ludicrous hypothesis, no evidence
Evidence-free claims that kangaroo numbers in Canberra threaten other grassland species, particularly endangered species, has morphed into a ludicrous hypothesis promoted by some ACT applied ecologists that kangaroos should be considered ‘outside’ of biodiversity, and a threat to biodiversity.
That greenlights whatever treatment is meted out to kangaroos and continues the dog-whistling of ‘pest’ that underlies this whole program. As noted earlier, saying you are saving biodiversity gets the ACT parks administration around any remaining safeguards for females and young in the welfare code of practice.
However, a Freedom of Information request by The District Bulletin and myself in 2017 unearthed a CSIRO consultancy report to the ACT government by two scientists who were specialists in the field of native vegetation and grassland plant species (unlike the ACT staff ecologists).
They found no negative impacts on ground cover/ habitat for other animals from up to three kangaroos per hectare on ACT-studied reserve sites.
Three ‘roos was about the highest density found on ACT reserves and is considered fairly natural for this landscape. However the government’s desktop aim, as far as one can get a straight story, is for one or less kangaroo units (forget families and mobs) per hectare, just like on the surrounding leased and frequently shot grazing properties. Anything higher is labelled “too many”.
“A cull is brutal to kangaroos who are herd creatures,” Christine Stevens from Isaacs told me. Like many neighbours she suffers every night of a cull “at the thought of the trauma inflicted on these endearing creatures.
“The distress to sympathetic residents is not short-lived. It is protracted over two and half months. No-one was directly informed or via community newsletter and they are powerless to stop the cull. We do not know if the cull is executed over a matter of days by way of coordinated effort. Or whether it is like duck season and shooters can enter and cull any time over the 2.5 months. Nor do we know if the count includes joeys in the pouch [who are bashed to death].”
The cull and the NSW program and the commercial killing, tarnish Australia’s national image, embed cruelty to native creatures as ‘what Australians do’ even after 200 years of nation-building, and in the ACT case, have offered no credible measure of benefit to reserves after 10 years.
• Kangaroo cull: an insult to public’s intelligence
IMAGE: Bywong kangaroo family. © Maria Taylor.