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Kangaroo Mythology

Recent discussion in the rural residential zone shows that even people well-disposed to our resident wildlife may subscribe to some unexamined myths and assumptions about Eastern Grey Kangaroos.

One is that kangaroo populations can “explode” and quickly grow to plague proportions. This is a biological impossibility for a species that can carry only a single live young annually and where high infant mortality is the norm, 70% being a figure mentioned. Much more likely in this region and in the ACT is that kangaroos aggregate as they are pushed around by development or seek shelter from a lethal gun culture on surrounding rural properties.

Another myth is that there have never been so many kangaroos in the history of Australia (why not when Europeans were able to graze squillions of sheep on the same native pastures?) and that improved pasture and dams have prompted so-called “overabundance” (a value not a scientific assessment).

Bathurst ecologist Ray Mjadwesch spent two years exploring the data and the literature on kangaroos and makes persuasive arguments countering these myths. For instance he highlights a natural kangaroo growth rate of about 3-8%. This presents a mathematical problem for managers who suggest a 15%, 30% or 40% kill rate is a sustainable number (40% being suggested in the ACT management plan), based on questionable counting methods and assumptions. You’ll find his whole thesis and research at www.kangaroosatrisk.net and a story in the June issue of the District Bulletin.  

Ray found the idea of population expansion thanks to European settlement is widely held and self-serving. He shows that in fact after 20 years of “harvest” the industry keeps population numbers looking stable only by moving into new territory like SE NSW since 2004

What does the historical record indicate?  He writes: “historic accounts generally describe the kangaroo as “abundant”, “plentiful”, “numerous,” and provides a page of example, a few of which are repeated below.

1788 NSW Port Jackson “Kangaroos are very numerous here

1790 Tench “They’re sociable animals and unite in droves to the number of 50 or 60 together”
1802 Barrallie “The hills were covered by kangaroos”.
1813 Blaxland: 8 mentions of kangaroo in 18 page journal, the party ate kangaroo for much of their crossing of the Blue Mountains
1814 Sydney Gazette “the immense forests which formerly abounded in the wild animals”
1814 Historical Records of Australia (1921) referring to Evans crossing the Blue Mountains “he saw numerous kangaroos”
1814 Cox “Timber thin and kangaroos a plenty”
1815 Macquarie [Bathurst] “On return we saw some Emus and Kangaroos”, “We saw a large Flock of Emus in Princess Charlotte’s Vale, and a great [number?] of Kangaroos, Pigeons, Quails and a few Wild Geese”
1818 Oxley “flocks of kangaroos like sheep. I do not exaggerate when I say that some hundreds were seen in the vicinity of this hill.”
1819 Howden “Kangaroos appeared in great numbers”
1820 Oxley “tiring of killing kangaroos he might have hunted emus with equal success”
1820 Macquarie “We saw a vast number of the large Forest Kangaroos in this mornings Excursion”; ”We saw and hunted many Flocks of Kangaroos in the course of this days Ride and killed three of them”; “In the course of our Ride we fell in with 3 or 4 small Herds [of kangaroos], some of which we hunted, and the Commissioner enjoyed the sport amazingly”
1828 Sturt “There were very many kangaroos, the intervening brush was full of kangaroos”
1831 Mitchell (frequent reference to kangaroos, including “…numerous pigeons and also kangaroos shewed…”)
1833 Bennett “Kangaroos and emus were numerous”
1833 Cross in WA “numerous herds of kangaroos”; “kangaroos and birds in abundance”; “kangaroos and birds in great abundance”; “saw many large kangaroos on the plain

1839 Mitchell (numerous references to kangaroos, including “swarms” along the Murray)
1841 Bridle (1969) describesHall (Grampians) “kangaroos abounded in the forests” & “kangaroo soup, in its abundance, ceased to have any attraction for us”
1850s Wheelright (1979) describes HW Wheelright (hunter, naturalist and writer) as having, in combination with another party “shot at least 2000 kangaroos within a short distance to the south-east of Melbourne”
1870s Schumack “plague proportions” in the ACT region
1897 Saville-Kent “the larger species of kangaroo, where abundant, so seriously tax the resources of the Australian pasture lands as to necessitate that adoption of stringent measures to keep them in check”, resulting in “the complete extirpation of the ‘Boomer’ throughout a large extent of the prairie-like tracts of Australian pastoral land on which it abounded previous to the advent of the settler”
Some historic accounts of kangaroos: (compiled from Marjorie Wilson OAM (2004), Auty (2004), Croft (2005) and by Mjadwesch (for this nomination)). Note: the author has not chased down source documents and personally sighted all of these accounts.

Ray concludes that humans have in fact displaced kangaroos. He writes of himself: “The author works as an ecologist, often out in the field, often in rural and remote areas, conducting flora and fauna surveys 99.9% of the time all the author can see is people, houses, roads, fences, paddocks etc. For 99.9% of the population, they can truthfully say the same 100% of the time. A tiny fraction of the human population, the author amongst them, can sometimes look out of the window and see kangaroos.”

Rural residential block owners are indeed fortunate to be part of that tiny fraction.
By Maria Taylor

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