WHAT IS IT with killing kangaroos to pay for the misfortunes of Australian graziers and croppers?
My colleague suggests it is a control thing, as in ‘can’t control the weather and drought but can control something larger and more visible than weeds’. That something, being a native grazer, has the impertinence to try and survive during drought by eating grass on someone’s private property. Almost the entire country is private property in modern Australia.
Stress relief maybe? Tradition? Certainly political cynicism and opportunism in the promoting of this idea. ‘Plague-proportion’ has become such a handy cliché that mention kangaroos and, without any sign of mental activity, it rolls off the tongue of country and city people alike.
The whole Australian numbers game with kangaroos, the ‘plague-proportion’ talk and official assertions serve to feed soothing narratives of ‘abundance’ that allow unhindered killing.
I keep hearing from all sorts of people that there is a plague of kangaroos ‘out west’ that need culling. That narrative has been stoked by the National Party Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair. But is that so?
The federal Greens to their credit have done some research that refutes this claim. The 2016 minutes of the NSW Kangaroo Advisory Panel acknowledge that supposed big increases in kangaroo numbers in the state’s western commercial shooting zones – like a 65% increase for 2013 – were actually a function of ‘correction factors’ and changed methodology.
The NSW government 2018 quota report for the commercial ‘harvest’ confirmed that numbers have actually been falling since 2013 for Eastern Grey kangaroos. Numbers have dropped between 40–70 percent in various western shooting zones between 2016 and 2017.
Red kangaroo numbers also declined across all eight western zones in that time span with gathering drought. Meanwhile in 2017, government counts in central and southern tablelands showed biologically impossible 50% to 100% increases over the previous three years, also in gathering drought.
In every year there is fundamental problem with the counting methods undertaken by state governments in service of the commercial kangaroo industry. Flyover sampling estimates are applied to every square kilometre of a kangaroo zone regardless of what is on the ground like a village or a cotton crop or stony wasteland. You can get some big numbers that way.
Picking up the worst ideas
Whatever is driving the latest war on Australia’s national emblem (with assured death or lingering injury for thousands, families and mob structure destroyed, starving joeys that will not survive), an ideologically right-wing NSW government is following a destructive blueprint from the north – as it did with rolling back restraints on tree clearing – to help beleaguered farmers, so it says on both counts.
The results with tree clearing in the north were not good: cancelling out taxpayer-funded efforts to counter carbon emissions – like tree planting! – while destroying remaining native species’ habitat. Critics frequently cite the impact on remnant koala numbers clinging on in mostly private land. There is no reason to hope that the renewed onslaught on habitat and on the clusters of kangaroo mobs in NSW will turn out any better than it has in Queensland.
In March I visited Queensland and interviewed two kangaroo shooters, well one ex-shooter and one who would still like to make a living in the commercial trade. Their description of the freelance slaughter and the cluster fencing (an idea that has also migrated to northern NSW sheep grazing properties) and the effects on all wildlife up there is chilling. Seen on the right – Drought and farmer cluster fencing in western NSW, mass kangaroo deaths reported.
> You can read it in the special report – Us and Them: the end game?
Who knew kangaroo numbers ‘explode’ in drought
I was struck by an ABC drought relief story which highlighted how reporters and media outlets uncritically amplify claims in government press releases, or statements attributed to farmers and graziers as solid fact, without any other points of view.
“As a result of the drought,” states the article, “kangaroo numbers have soared, creating more problems for farmers.” The reporter then cuts to the National Party Deputy Premier of NSW and Member for Monaro, John Barilaro. He announces that the government is dealing with “the explosion in kangaroo numbers” by extending more culling privileges to farmers and extending the commercial “harvest” zones.
There is probably no nice way to say this. Reading about kangaroo numbers soaring as a result of the drought, I pondered:
What kind of dopey thinks a native grazing animal
reliant on rain-fed ground-cover, already subject to
wide-spread commercial hunting and harassment
across back-to-back private properties,
not only prospers in a drought but “ soars’ and
‘explodes’ in its population numbers
under such circumstances? ”
The historical records show that kangaroo populations plummet in droughts without human help, as one might expect. Unlike goats, pigs, dogs, cats and rabbits, kangaroos can have one baby a year just like most humans, sheep or cattle. Infant mortality is high even in good years and droughts kill all age groups.
As for extending commercial harvest zones, dear reader, we already have commercial harvest zones covering most of the state including most of the south-east. There are chillers outside Bungendore and Queanbeyan. No doubt on private properties in Braidwood, Goulburn and the Yass area too. I’ve been informed there is a small region outside Bombala that has not yet been included as a commercial zone. And guess in whose Monaro electorate that falls.
Safety in some human company
The relatively numerous kangaroos in the rural residential safe havens around the ACT or Queanbeyan would have built up with refugees from this commercial hunt and from grazier culling that happens already. Expect to see more refugees as this latest war ramps up.
As in the Queensland story, the NSW government has plans to actively recruit ‘volunteers’ – weekend warriors with a gun license, to help the farmers kill kangaroos.
The question is: will the public, that actually is the guardian of the wildlife, keep giving these politicians and the graziers and recreational shooters who agree with them the social license to go on a slaughter spree familiar since colonial times? And what kind of reputational damage will Australian farmers as a sector, reap as a consequence?
Instead of scapegoating wildlife for 200 years
of unsustainable farming methods,
the Australian government should
support farmers transition to a 21st century approach.
— Dr Arian Wallach, researcher at the UTS Centre for Compassionate Conservation.
> In this related commentary Wallach offers a different perspective based on her time working and researching in the bush.