LATE IN JANUARY, the Animal Justice Party asked me, as their regional spokesperson on kangaroos, to speak to a journalist who was writing an article for Fairfax media on a proposal to kill 900 kangaroos over two years at the Scottsdale Reserve, near Bredbo.
As it turned out, the Fairfax article focused mainly on claims and myths about kangaroos that ACT reserve managers repeat when they justify their lethal ‘management’ program. It included little that balanced these arguments as they are being spread into NSW from ACT ‘expertise’.
The Scottsdale property is owned by Bush Heritage, which uses donor monies to buy properties for conservation. This is not the first time Bush Heritage has been in the news for killing kangaroos at Scottsdale, or been criticised for ignoring financial donors’ expectations.
In 2016, Bush Heritage obtained a licence to kill 500 kangaroos at Scottsdale. A number of donors withdrew financial support saying they were misled about this practice and had believed the organisation was committed to protecting the environment and all its native wildlife. Then as now, there has been no data proving marsupial environmental damage on the conservation property that would support killing.
More doubt about ACT reserve management
Scottsdale has re-emerged on the heels of further doubt over the killing of kangaroos in the nearby ACT. Last year, The District Bulletin obtained under freedom of information a CSIRO report analysing ACT government data on the relationship between kangaroos and vegetation on ACT reserves.
The CSIRO analysis did not support the ACT government assumption that Eastern Grey Kangaroos need to be culled down to 1 or less per hectare to preserve vegetation or any other biodiversity. The authors checked ACT studied sites with densities up to three kangaroos per hectare (the upper density limit on those sites) and could not say that vegetation indicators had declined on any front up to that number of animals. In a related finding, they could not identify an optimal kangaroo density linked to groundcover richness, diversity or condition.
Despite these revelations, the ACT government continues to insist in its Kangaroo Management Plan that “approximately one kangaroo per hectare” is “desirable”. The CSIRO report makes it clear that this figure is unsupported by the on-ground evidence.
Yet Bush Heritage has indicated it sees the ACT Kangaroo Management Plan as best practice. In 2016 Bush Heritage was contacted by the Bulletin for comment and confirmed that the organisation is culling. They gave a management argument similar to the ACT’s saying “if left unmanaged kangaroo numbers are capable of compromising large-scale revegetation and threatened species reintroduction projects on the reserve.”
Two years ago the organisation offered as its main scientific evidence of kangaroo impact an inconclusive ACT paper that simply measured grass height to allege kangaroos threaten reptiles and, supposedly, other ground-dwelling wildlife. [See Roogate, The Eight Papers, on the homepage for a closer look at the papers the ACT offers as its evidence.]
If Bush Heritage is using ACT government advice on how many kangaroos are ideal on their 1,328 hectare property without understanding the kangaroos’ ecological roles, they will more likely end up damaging the whole biodiversity of the property rather than protecting it.
The background bloodshed, most landscapes empty of kangaroos
We should not forget that in all states kangaroos (with Reds and Eastern Greys topping the list along with Wallaroos and Western Greys) also face a commercial killing operation for skins and meat that has been called the world’s greatest, brutal wildlife slaughter. The NSW government offered up almost three million kangaroos for commercial slaughter in 2015 and in Queensland it was almost 4 million. In both cases the actual ‘harvest’ indicates shooters could find and kill only a fraction of this quota from inflated population numbers that keep the overabundance story going.
That’s on top of non-commercial pest licenses issued mainly to farmers. There is evidence some reserve managers want to emulate traditional stock graziers with their one-kangaroo-per-hectare goal. So with the two killing programs combined, it’s less surprising that you never see a wild kangaroo while driving in wide-open country [Ed note or why they shelter in rural residential areas …].
Back in the ACT, between 2014 and 2015, the government increased the number of kangaroos to be killed under non-commercial licences by 800, even though, in both 2014 and 2015, shooters were also unable to find and kill more than half of those they were licenced to kill.
Welfare concerns: kangaroos get lowest standards
The primary concern of animal welfare advocates, including the Animal Justice Party, is the cruelty of shooting kangaroos en masse (both commercially and non-commercially). There is no particular incentive for either commercial or non-commercial shooters to comply with the welfare standards when there is no other living soul to observe them. Worse, the codes themselves explicitly exempt kangaroo shooters from compliance with the normal public welfare expectations articulated in animal welfare law.
The Code of Practice for non-commercial shooters actively permits gross acts of cruelty such as bashing pouch joeys to death and shooting females who are nursing young at foot. Shooting nursing mothers has the direct and inevitable result of orphaning dependent young who then die from dehydration, starvation, hypothermia, myopathy, car-strike or predation. Many residents who live around the ACT’s urban reserves bear witness to this suffering every year.
In addition to these cruelties, largescale slaughter subjects animals to unremitting terror, night after night. Families are torn apart. Mob structure is destroyed, and all the wisdom that has been accumulated by a mob down the generations is fragmented or lost.
Claims that kangaroos need to be killed because they are “starving” when in larger numbers are rarely truthful. Eastern Grey Kangaroos stop breeding when food becomes scarce. They need surprisingly little water, and they can travel long distances to find both water and food when they need to. And, as any horse-owner will know, starvation is unfortunately the natural old-age destiny for all grazing animals as they finally lose their teeth.
If kangaroos have lost so much habitat that they are trapped in an area without access to food or water, translocation is now a well proven option. The kangaroo population in the ACT’s Namadgi National Park has never recovered from the fires of 2003. Namadgi alone could easily take the surplus (if there really is a surplus) from Scottsdale and, indeed, from all the reserves of the Canberra Nature Park.
The managers of Scottsdale might also look around and talk to their neighbours. If the neighbours are all shooting it is not surprising that a ‘conservation reserve’ may become a refuge for a few more native animals – now betrayed.
Related story > BUSH HERITAGE CHARGED WITH MISLEADING DONORS ABOUT KANGAROO CULL
IMAGE: Brett Clifton