Author Archives: Eve Kelly

NSW Kangaroo Cruelty

Stop Kangaroo Cruelty in NSW!

Copyrighted picture by Maria Taylor

How you can Help

1. Demand an end to the cruelty of kangaroos in NSW!


In June 2018, the NSW Liberal/National government ‘relaxed red tape’ with regards to the already under-regulated and inhumane system of culling kangaroos.

This unethical measure paved the way for an increased number of inexperienced shooters to kill kangaroos. As a result, kangaroos are being maimed, killed inhumanely and joeys at foot left to starve to death at numbers that are totally unacceptable to the Australian community.

Already, hundreds of thousands of kangaroos are suffering unethical body-shots in the commercial industry. With these relaxed conditions, a major increase in the inhumane treatment of vulnerable kangaroos is certain.

‘The RSPCA’s research shows commercial shooters have lifted their accuracy rates from 86 to 96 percent.

The four percent variable still equates to 100,000 kangaroos. Farmers and sporting shooters, it says, have shown no improvement in their accuracy rates’
— Kellie Russell, Landline 2002

‘What happens when those does [kangaroo mothers] are shot before the shooter can get to the joey is that those joeys have scarpered off, the reality is that those joeys will die from starvation and if not from predation and that in a humane society can’t be tolerated.

Dr Hugh Wirth, RSPCA, Landline 2002


‘The problem with shooting and culling kangaroos is that when these animals are shot they often aren’t killed and it is extraordinarily inhumane. If we were processing domestic livestock the same way we do kangaroos it would shut down immediately. People would be just horrified. I think we need to have that same empathy and understanding for kangaroos as we would a cow.
Terri Irwin, ‘Kangaroo’ the movie, 2017

This unnecessary and unethical cruelty must end!

2. Draft a Letter/Email to your Local and State Representatives

• Download or copy and paste our draft letter into an email or letter (example below)
• Use our letter as is, or individualise it with your concerns.
• Insert the date, your address details and the minister’s address.

We recommend you send a copy to one (or all) of the following:

NSW Premier
The Hon. Gladys Berejiklian, MP
GPO Box 5341, Sydney NSW 2001
Tel: (02) 9228 5239
To contact the Premier visit and use the ‘Contact the Premier’ facility

Minister for Energy and Environment
The Hon. Matt Kean, MP
GPO Box 5341, Sydney NSW 2001
Tel: (02) 8574 6150
To contact the Minister for Energy and Environment visit and use the ‘Contact NSW Ministers’ facility

Minister for Agriculture and Western New South Wales
The Hon. Adam Marshall, MP
GPO Box 5341, Sydney NSW 2001
Tel: (02) 8574 5450
To contact the Minister for Agriculture and Western New South Wales visit and use the ‘Contact NSW Ministers’ facility

AND your local MPs, Greens, Labor, Liberal, National and Independent candidates

Download the letter here.

[Draft Letter Example]

(Insert date)

(Insert name of Minister)

(Insert position)

(Insert address)

(Insert email address)

(Insert your full name)

(Insert your postal address)

(Insert your email address

(Insert your phone number)

Dear (insert the minister/candidate’s title and name),


NSW kangaroo management is unacceptable to any compassionate and moral Australian citizen, and it just got worse.

In June 2018, the NSW Liberal/National government ‘relaxed red tape’ with regard to the already under-regulated and inhumane system of private culling of kangaroos in addition to a huge commercial hunt across the state.

This unethical political appeal to some NSW farmers also recruits city shooters to kill kangaroos in a totally unmonitored program. More kangaroos than ever are being maimed before death and unweaned joeys at foot left to starve.

In the commercial industry hundreds of thousands of kangaroos suffer face or body shots annually before being finally killed (RSPCA statistics). The non-commercial ‘less professional’ killing, promoted by NSW Primary Industries, now with even less conditions, is unacceptably inhumane. Here is an eyewitness account from NSW landowners who have witnessed commercial hunting along their property line for nearly a decade.

“We have seen hundreds of kangaroo’s heads that have been butchered and left in the field. Many do not have a gunshot wound to them. We have witnessed kangaroo heads that have been shot in regions of the head other than the brain case, often in the front of the head, [these kangaroos] may not have died until sometime after, often showing the signs of gruesome secondary trauma from a length of metal pipe or an axe.
Joeys are often not killed with their mothers but ripped from her pouch and discarded into the bushes, not even counted as a statistical ‘kill’. We hear them calling for their dead mothers until the sun comes up. We see them in the mornings lost and bewildered. We may see them again the next evening, but usually never again after that. This is considered ‘acceptable collateral damage’.
The group social structure is ruined. The mob is in disarray. The fields smell of death.”

The nature of kangaroo hunting and culling for economic purposes is inherently cruel to individual animals, destroys the kangaroo presence in natural ecosystems and bloodies our national icon, shaming Australia in other countries.

We are among many citizens who say it has to stop and will vote for reform of wildlife management.

Yours sincerely,

(Insert your name)

3. Speak for wildlife — join the AWPC
4. To make a donation to AWPC

(without becoming a member) click here.

Thank You!




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Us and Them — the End Game?

us and them

ABOVE: from a hunting website in Queensland a year ago. As in Queensland, the NSW government is actively calling for ‘volunteers’  to shoot the wildlife – “to help the farmers” they say. Apart from basic ethical and usefulness issues, in both states there is no evidence of oversight on capacity to shoot accurately; take care of joeys; or manage any welfare questions.

Taken from:

THE FOLLOWING IS an excerpt from a book that editor  Maria Taylor  is currently completing. The subject is Australia’s fraught relationship with much of its wildlife since colonial times and how certain values and beliefs have stuck with many of us in this country. The kangaroo species that are hunted and unjustly treated as pests is the standout case study.

The mainstream version of our relationship to this unique marsupial is told every day as with one voice by graziers and some farmers, major political parties, some applied ecologists, mass media and in most cases, the kangaroo ‘harvesting’ industry. Together they support the world’s biggest terrestrial wildlife slaughter.

The countless millions of kangaroos people believe are bounding across the landscape are in large part a mathematical figment that has received well-deserved deconstruction.

In this chapter Taylor talks to two former ‘roo shooters who tell a different story – not from a desktop, but from ground-level. They reveal the horrors that are going on right now in south west Queensland in the name of drought relief and to prop up hopes for revival of a sheep industry there. And the same ideas and proposed solution to blame kangaroos are seeping into NSW.

“I rang the federal member for Roma the other day and said: have you been into parliament to tell them to change the coat of arms for Australia? She says why? I said because you’ve shot the kangaroo and emu out. She slammed the phone down on me.
“Between the drought and the cluster fencing; the poisoning (of waterholes) and the shooting; the kangaroo is wiped out in western Queensland.”

Tom King Snr, Cunnamulla

“We’ve been driving through (Central Queensland) for seven years. Except for one very wet year we have seen (and smelt) lots of dead animals. One year we saw the bodies of kangaroos and other wildlife every five metres around Longreach. We’ve seen dingoes killed and scalped and hung from posts and large poison bait (1080) signs. The region has an all-out assault on wildlife. These ways of treating wildlife are very traditional; but what about the desire in these areas to increase tourism?”

— Dr Arian Wallach, University of Technology Sydney,
conducting dingo research in Central Queensland

In March 2018, a truck driver from southern NSW, who had been delivering loads of hay to Central Queensland graziers, recounted similar experiences. He said he was seeing dead kangaroos and emus everywhere along the outback roadsides he had travelled.

Us-and-them-special-report-district-bulletinLYN GYNTHER TELLS me that she lives next door to an abattoir. She recounts a recent experience with a load of cattle. They had been left there by the owner over the weekend with no feed and as much water as a dog would drink in a day. She got on the phone to the owner and told him that if he didn’t come around with some feed and water, she’d do it and bill him. He came.

I had gone to Central Queensland to interview Lyn Gynther and Tom King about their first-hand experiences. Lyn, from around Warwick, is a fighter for animals but she was also a killer of animals as a former roo shooter. Tom King from Cunnamulla is also outspoken for wildlife these days while still a licensed and sometimes practicing roo shooter. To be accurate, he’d like to be a roo shooter who can still make some income in an arena the kangaroo industry and state and national governments insist is sustainable wildlife management.

Given his unusual outspokenness he’s also been pushed off properties and called crazy; or lying for breaking the tradition that demands conformity and silence towards outsiders – characteristic of many communities, particularly rural communities, in Australia as elsewhere.

But with an intractable drought pitting domestic stock graziers against the commercial kangaroo ‘harvesting’ business, let alone wildlife welfare advocates, things have been breaking out into the news. From the kangaroo industry’s perspective the wildlife ‘resource’ is being wiped out.  Tom in particular has interested local journalists by fingering as a major culprit the kilometres of cluster fencing nominally aimed at stopping wild dogs that maul sheep. But the fences also cut across remaining wildlife corridors to water and to opportunistic forage.

Both Lyn and Tom told me about the destruction being rained down on kangaroos and wallabies and, more quietly, emus, by a state government mitigation program to help the graziers. This entails generous open season permits to shoot macropods for three years being issued for 2017–2020. ‘Mitigation’ has in some places opened the door for recreational shooters being invited onto grazing properties to blast away at any wild-living animal unfortunate enough to be caught up by the fencing maze.

This is happening on Mitchell Grass plains interspersed with mulga and Gidgee native tree belts where there has been conversion since the mid-1990s from sheep to frequently opportunistic cattle grazing – a situation that local and state politicians in 2018 herald as starting to reverse itself thanks to the fencing. They have hailed the move back to sheep as the newest saviour for outback communities like Cunnamulla. Back to tradition is a time-honoured Australian response to a challenging environment.

Drought and now climate change

WHAT SHOULD BE predictable drought, (it’s happened since colonial days), has been intensified and made less predictable by present-day climate change. Six-, seven-year or longer drought now frames a renewed war on wildlife as paddocks lie bare of forage. It reads like a 21st century replay of the colonial annihilation of the native inhabitants from ‘private property’ that new settlers claimed across the landscape.

Talking to the current settlers, long-standing myths, demonization, and false facts soon emerge regarding remaining kangaroo mobs, complicated again by the activities of the commercial harvesters. For example, recent policies to target only male animals (to get around the bad public relations image of the treatment of joeys) destroys stable mob structure and behaviour while increasing the number of kangaroos seen overall as more females survive to maturity.

The situation is further complicated by past property management practices – like opening artesian stock water opportunities that attract wildlife on land that did not naturally support water courses. That said, going back a step further, few current owners know what the colonial settlers did in altering the landscape – as in widespread tree removal, or erosion from overstocking, both drying out previous wetter areas.

“What is seldom if ever talked about is sharing the landscape with the original inhabitants:

kangaroo, wallaby, emu, brolga, and co-existing with the natural predators, dingo, eagle. That might lead to thinking outside the box in the direction of other enterprises – like inland tourism.

The sheep industry nowadays actively promotes hundreds of kilometres of exclusion fencing not only in Central Queensland but around Australia against dingoes but also against kangaroo, wallaby and emu “pests” as they call them, and feral animals like wild pigs and goats. There is an admission that the business is either so marginal by location or weather or is so greedy that keeping out kangaroos, wallabies or emus that might share some vegetation over many thousands of hectares, is a make or break situation.

Poverty in the bush

Lyn’s story

lyn-gyntherLyn says she was a wildlife carer, always caring for something, before she started shooting (at the age of 17, now 55) in the early 1980s. She worked along with her ex-husband. “We got ourselves into a situation where there was no work out home; we had nowhere to live; we went to the local council at Barcaldine and enquired about Centrelink payments, denied; they said move back with your parents.” They got a loan from family to set up a truck, the spotlights the guns the racks and went shooting.

As someone who cared for animals how did she cope? “I had to switch off. It desensitises you. Every normal person has to desensitise when you have to do this killing every night.” (Tom interjects, there was a time in the late 80s when it got to him and he just didn’t want to do it.) Both agree that they had to because it was all that was coming in as income.

“It’s hard, dirty, filthy work that’s desensitising. Your brain’s dead. When you get home, then you’ve got to salt your skins, unload your roos, do your knives, reload your bullets, then you get a few hours sleep and then you’re up and at it again.”

She did it full-time for three years and then part-time for a total of five years. She had two children in that time. Her ex-husband was in it lot longer. She went and managed a motel and he was still shooting. “We left Barcaldine when the kids were five and seven and he did it until then.”

“We used to also go pigging, not like these people do with dogs, we never had dogs that were allowed to touch pigs… Or we’d take ‘em home and sty them, clean them out. My job was to shoot a roo every second day to feed the pigs.

“If there was a joey on board … grass was high couldn’t always see the pouch; if I hit a doe instead of a buck … I had another joey to rear.

She stopped shooting finally, sick of the heavy work, being tired and exhausted; “My parents were looking after the kids while I was trying to shoot at night, trying to sleep through the day, and mum didn’t want kids all day and all night”. In the end her husband employed an offsider for $50 a night.

Aftershock: realising family structure matters

“I know now how many macropod families I’ve blown apart

“I struggle now, get quite depressed, since I have educated myself on the biology and the mob structure and that sort of thing. Because I know now how many macropod families I’ve blown apart and completely destroyed and caused chaos within those animals.”

While it is soothing to view ‘game’ or ‘pest’ animals not as families but as mechanical units that managers can count and kill, destroying the group structure, the natural behaviours and interactions has consequences. Quite apart from welfare considerations, people often have no concept of what they are unleashing.

Dingo, wild dog, predation on sheep is the official reason for the Central Queensland cluster fencing across contiguous properties. People will tell you that the years of cattle farming encouraged the dingos to breed up because cattle producers aren’t particularly threatened by wild dogs. Or that graziers, out of desperation at the dingo predation, went out of sheep into cattle.

But dingo researcher Arian Wallach explained how indiscriminate poisoning and killing can makes matters worse for producers as they struggle to maintain domestic animals in an existing ecosystem that has had some stability and predictable patterns of behaviour.

Firstly where dingos are persecuted, there are likely to be more herbivores, among their natural prey. In dryer times that prey is more likely to be the kangaroos that most graziers also don’t like and kill, along with the commercial industry take.

Researchers at the University of NSW again confirmed that where dingos are culled there is more kangaroo activity and conversely there is more grass where dingos are not culled. The whole system is correlated with irregular rainfall events. Thus, current solutions by graziers and governments of fencing out and killing both the predators and the natural prey, is an expensive destruction of an existing ecological pattern with no promise that it has any effect on the real threat, the drought.

Also less well known is that killing the dingos indiscriminately or removing the dominant males creates chaotic family structures.

Wallach said that the surviving young, ‘homeless’ and uneducated dingos, are likely to be the ones preying the most on an easy target – sheep. The same would be true of other wild dogs. It becomes a vicious circle that has also been observed in North America with persecuted wolf populations.

Alpha males prime targets

A population-stabilising mob structure applies also to kangaroos. Unmolested, a mob is led by an alpha male, the prime target for shooters. Not only are they big and easily seen, but they stand and face the threat as the mob disperses. Against guns.

Lyn Gynther said that in Queensland grazing lands now, after years of ‘harvesting’ and pest management, people hardly know what a big kangaroo is. “The (male) roos we were shooting back then were massive animals. They used to keep all the young males in line. And all that’s gone now. So you have young stuff raping immature females, causing problems like prolapses, infections… It just goes on.”

Pest management, whether it is by graziers or the city of Canberra, perpetuates the biological imbalance. They call it ‘culling’ which in nature takes out the weak, but here it’s the strongest males that go first.

From their on-ground observations, Lyn and Tom think that the gene pool is changing with kangaroos that are continually hunted producing smaller offspring. (Lyn agrees as carer of orphaned joeys.) Tom says that by 1984 shooters meeting at his place agreed the roos are not as big as the old fellas used to be. That has meant they have to shoot more for the same amount of money for skins and meat.

The roo shooting system has been an agreement between a professional shooter and a number of property owners.

Says Lyn, “We used to take a trailer as well as the back of ute and a normal nights shooting was 60–70 roos, five, six, nights a week in those three properties [where they had a deal to shoot]. A really good nights shooting was 100 plus. The animals were there all the time.”

Massive outback acreages are involved – tens and hundreds of thousands of hectares. While the Red Kangaroo ranges more widely in arid country, Eastern Grey Kangaroos adhere to a home-range system that would account for mobs being there “all the time”. Until the animals weren’t there anymore in any predictable way.

Nowadays says Tom, “One bloke said he reckoned he had 10,000 kangaroos on his country. I went out and shot 10 kangaroos for the night and I wouldn’t have seen 100.”

Lyn agrees. “Nowadays shooters are bringing in 10 or 15 roos a night. If they come in with 50, 60 you suspect they’ve been in the national park.”

Faithful media repetition of local claims that nevertheless kangaroos are on Central Queensland properties (and elsewhere inland) in “plague-proportions” may in fact be a function of perception. As one sheep grazier told me, in the drought the only reasonable patches of grass come up as a result of fleeting rain storms. Then all the kangaroos in the region are likely to descend and be seen as a plague. Research has shown that sheep and kangaroos are only in competition for grass during a drought. (Terence J Dawson, Kangaroos, 2012. CSIRO Publishing, p145.)

The fencing and freelance ‘mitigation’ shooting that has characterised Central Queensland in past years has also disrupted previous animal home-range patterns. When one grazier puts a mitigation licence or fence into effect, it’s likely that the neighbouring property may suddenly see hundreds of fleeing animals not seen previously.

Fallout on the jobs front

The last Australia-wide count of professional kangaroo shooters and related workers yielded a workforce of 4,000–5,000 maximum. The government frequently claims 4,000 jobs are at stake with the commercial kangaroo industry. However, Lyn and Tom say most shooters are not full-time, just weekender, part-time shooters. Many are leaving the industry because they cannot make even a part-time income for the trouble.

This is despite the fact that the officially published census of kangaroos has grown by remarkable millions (particularly for Queensland over three years despite severe drought and persecution). But Lyn points to the anomaly between the government’s allocated quota and actual take as an indication that the animals are not there.

In Queensland shooters have not taken more than one quarter to one third of the quota even in their best years of the past decade before the loss of the major Russian market in 2012 and again in 2014 (thanks to the evidence of meat contamination with bacteria and other unhealthy material due to the field handling), and the take has dropped since.

Lyn is amongst those who say the government counts cannot be believed. For one thing they are not taking into account after-flood die offs which take out 100,000s. “They die off within two weeks; they don’t consider numbers killed on the roads; natural predation; drought or disease.” She agrees with the researchers who have taken apart the counting methodology itself.

Few people know that the amazing abundance reflected by official kangaroo numbers is a function of applying mathematical creativity to relatively small on-ground samples.

Desktop population counts

Visual samples are collected annually or tri-annually by national parks staff flying transects by fixed plane or helicopter across the countryside. A kangaroo count per zone is averaged for density, often based on clusters seen on the ground and some mysterious algorithms applied back in the office.

In NSW, that density figure is then multiplied by the total square kilometres in the related kangaroo ‘management’ zone, previously called harvest zone. The zones cover most of the state.

Multiplying in this way across a whole zone disregards the kilometres of pest-managed agricultural land and urban settlement that likely have nothing near the average density of kangaroo. Public land, as in parks and reserves, are notionally not sampled although it has been claimed in one research project that in the past the samplers have gone there as well, bumping up the raw numbers.

So-called ‘correction factors’ are used and increased in some areas where kangaroos have long been shot to estimate animal density the aerial spotters argue are just hidden from view, not absent.

It doesn’t take an advanced degree to look around. Like other observant Australian citizens and disappointed visitors, Tom and Lyn, who make it their business to observe what is happening to their regional kangaroo population, ask: “Where are all these millions of roos that the government claims to have counted?”

Tom has criss-crossed the region as a truck driver and Lyn also spends time on country roads. They both say they rarely see a kangaroo these days.

Says Tom: “We had a bloke come out with a machine on the bottom of a helicopter doing the grid for minerals. Flew all over the country. I said how many roos do you reckon you see flying all over like that? He said, I might count 10 a day if I’m lucky. They were flying millions of acres and they weren’t finding any. That country used to have tens of thousands of roos.”

Tom’s story

Tom-KingTom King, now 61, has been hunting kangaroos since he was 12 years old. Today he drives trucks for his main living. As a youngster he shot roos for pocket money around school hours, bagging five or six a day for skins. Later with motorbike, while working on the land, he shot kangaroos on a Friday afternoon and sold them in town. He says it bought him a café meal, movie and cigarettes so he could save his wages. As is commonly the case, it runs in the family. “Dad done it when he wasn’t fencing or droving. Dad always shot kangaroos to make more money.” Tom King’s son Tom Jnr also has worked as a roo shooter.

When he was selling lots of carcasses in the 1980s skins dominated the overseas market. That started drying up in the late 1980s.

That was when once-active conservation groups and zoologist Peter Rawlinson convinced the Americans and the odd celebrity to do without kangaroo leather – by showing that an Australian government public relations campaign, citing vast kangaroo numbers (but less than half being cited in 2017), was misleading. The Americans also pulled away because Australia did not have what US law required: a conservation plan for the species.

Australia still only has a commercial harvesting plan to this day, ie the yearly population counts and quotas published by the federal government based on those state aerial surveys. By the early 1990s the UK animal rights group VIVA was also starting to successfully lobby against the skin and meat trade on the other side of the Atlantic.

That the kangaroo trade long operated under allegations of organised crime profits and official corruption was unpacked by Raymond Hoser and Fairfax journalist Fia Cummings in books and newspaper reports up to 1996. Tom and Lyn told me everyone knew in the ‘80s and ‘90s of organised crime elements (with some recurring names) that, it was commonly, alleged led to more than one murder. Everyone on the bottom rung of field shooting, relying on making a few dollars as the sun rose and the carcasses were handed over, was cautious of talking about the industry heavyweights.

I ask Tom what the turning point was for him to start speaking out. He told a story that shows how myths grow and illustrates the renewed showdown between the wildlife and what people decide to produce – because they can on their private property.

He said it happened 7–8 years ago as everyone continued going into cattle and everyone was “hating sheep and hating kangaroos”. At the time a major local land owner started growing cotton around Cunnamulla. Kangaroos don’t eat cotton. “But they’ll eat every blade of green grass between the rows.

“So as soon as they started watering the cotton, kangaroos for miles started swarming in.” That family owns property all around Cunnamulla. “So then they said they had kangaroos in plague proportions, gotta do something. So they got a mitigation permit and wiped them out.”

Tom turned to trucking for a living. “I was carting cattle from Georgetown, Normanton right back to Charleville. Lot of good ‘roo country there. Some nights I wouldn’t even see a kangaroo (that was four years ago) would be less there now.”

By 2018 Tom King was telling anyone who would listen (and he says that did not include the authorities he tried to talk to) about what he’s seen and heard of conditions in Central Queensland during the recent five- to seven-year drought on top of the grazier stocking changes.

In 2015 he told the Australian Society for Kangaroos, which passed it on to the media, about a slaughter he came across where kangaroos had been herded against a fence, riddled with bullets and left to die. The Daily Mail  reported it with photos:

Daily Mail inhumane

Unlimited ‘mitigation permits’: kill everything

The Labor state government has been on board to help the graziers. Lyn shows me a damage mitigation permit now issued in Qld. It’s for killing unlimited numbers of wallabies over three years. She notes there is no such thing as a re-location permit.

On one property, says Tom: “He’s got a mitigation permit, so invited shooters – ‘got a job to wipe them out whatever they are’. There were six cars in that convoy all had buggies on the back. Gun racks and cases on every one. They were there for three weeks. When the commercial roo shooter went out there, all he could find was roos laid out everywhere.” Lyn adds: “Professional shooters can now add 50 roos at a time for ‘recreational’ personal use. That all has to go.”

Tom believes fewer Red kangaroos are migrating to Central Queensland from further west to feed. “Weekend warriors [or the odd enterprising professional] go way out west shooting them out there,” he says.  Technology has made this possible with new roads and four wheel drives able to carry much more fuel than earlier.

They agree that policing is hard to do in big, remote country. And almost no-one will talk. The code of rural conformity is strong, meaning often no-one wants to hear either.

But, insists Tom, the ammunition sold tells the story. Like when 27 part-time commercial shooters around Cunnamulla shot 4,700 kangaroos in a five week period. At the same time the local gun shop sold 25,000 rounds. “None of those were sold to us, not one professional roo shooter. That was all sold in big boxes of ammunition to the graziers for getting rid of kangaroos.

“A man goes out and buys 10,000 rounds for a 22-Magnum a month. Why? What’s he shooting? That’s a terrorist act as far as I’m concerned.”

Fill the SUV with big dead roos

Tom talks about a site he has seen on Facebook aimed at recreational shooters. It’s all about filling your car with big old dead kangaroos. A site that sells four wheel drives and guns. He cites another Facebook page for a regional firearms dealer that boasted of selling 30,000 rounds in four hours for mitigation work.

Bringing in the “weekend warriors” to have fun and destroy the wildlife theoretically still requires a mitigation permit. How accurate their shooting is a matter of dispute. The Sporting Shooters Association claims it is regulated to a professional standard.

However a quick check with police fact sheets on requirements for sporting shooters on rural properties and “game/vermin” control mentions nothing about shooting accuracy or professional standards. Permission is the big issue. On-ground evidence as shown in the Daily Mail report raises questions.

Tom and Lyn are also disgusted that no authority checks anything either before or after permits are handed out. Says Tom: “no-one goes out and counts the kangaroos to see if he’s got a roo problem; no-one goes out to check if the joey’s killed humanely, no-one does it.” Lyn claims that the government attitude since 2014 has been that while a drought is on, its job is to expedite issuing mitigation permits without inspections required.

They agree the whole scene looks a lot like genocide.

NSW gets on board with the blame game

A recent ABC news story on relief for the gathering drought in NSW, quotes the state National Party leader, Deputy Premier, and representative for Monaro, John Barilaro, promising that NSW will take a leaf out of Queensland’s book and blame kangaroos for the drought conditions.

Making macropod killing easier will be part of the official response, he promised. Either the reporter or the National Party claimed the (let’s be polite and just say) ‘unlikely’ scenario that kangaroo populations “have soared … as a result of the drought”.

Deadly maze

In parallel with the upswing in freelance mitigation shooting there is the cluster fencing that stops wildlife migrating to water and food or bails it up for the shooters.

Cluster fencing between adjacent landholders has been going up for the past five years in south-east central Queensland extending into northern NSW. Seventy percent of a reported $31 million cost for the fencing by the start of 2018 was paid for by the taxpayer. The fences are ostensibly to ward off dingos. (These fences stretch across the landscape joining and enclosing multiple properties which also still have their internal fencing intact.)

But says Tom the fences are “killing roos everywhere; they can’t migrate to water, can’t get to rivers because they are also fenced off. They estimate cluster fencing criss-crosses some 70 miles from Cunnamulla to the NSW border covering millions of hectares.

A 2017 media report about the Labor Premier of Queensland visiting the cluster fencing outside Longreach (and saying this was money well spent to save the sheep industry), cited cluster fencing then encompassing 300 rural properties and 4.3 million hectares, at a cost to the taxpayer of $27 million, the rest of the cost being picked up by producers.

A Kondinin sheep industry report promoting exclusion fencing went further stating that as of early 2016 “it is not uncommon” for fences to stretch to 200 or 300km in length enclosing 100,000 hectares.

Lyn notes there are laws against fencing all the way down to the water yet this is what’s happened. And public stock routes are being fenced. “In Paroo Shire you go to the Lands Department and they’ll say they’re all open stock routes; but now they’re full of stock, the gates are locked and the cockies got a big cluster fence going across.”

wildlife think they can go through
and they can’t get back out
or get water or food

“They have all these little corridors going in where kangaroos think they can go through and they can’t get back out or get water or food. There’s nothing – they die. It’s happening all around, Charleville, Mitchell, Morgan, St George … it’s happening everywhere. Emus, echidna; every wildlife … is caught in the fencing,” says Tom.

We discuss the government subsidy side of grazing in this unpredictable, boom and bust environment. It was raining along the coastal fringe when I talk with them, but not inland. Central Queensland is in its sixth or seventh year of drought. No-one has any money, says Tom. So on top of the regular drought and flood subsidies, the taxpayer is stumping up for most of the millions now going towards cluster fencing, for which even village businesses are applying.

Effect of stocking decisions

Changing stock to cattle and heavy-grazing Dorper sheep worsened the on-ground effects of the drought. Many of the stocking changes were opportunistic as cattle prices rose and wool prices dropped (now reversing). Some involved absentee landholders who were moving cattle in and out. They weren’t neighbours in the traditional sense I was told by the long-time sheep grazier.

But the hard environment is not easy cattle country and everywhere stocking rates are paramount. Research suggests that competition with the macropods for grass emerges with overstocking. Drought on top is fatal.

The severe land degradation brought on by such landholder decisions is seldom appreciated by passing motorist who may see what appears to be a lot of kangaroos and wallabies eating road-side grass – often the only viable grass in the region. There are likely no animals on the other side of the fence.

Tom King has not made himself any more popular with his local critics by telling media people – that in his opinion – stocking decisions and treatment are in some cases as ignorant as the treatment of the wildlife; and that modern technology has put theory ahead of understanding. He’ll say things like:

“Fellow told me one day you gotta keep up with technology. I told him take that phone out of your pocket and tell that old ewe with her tongue hanging out there, she’s gotta walk another three kilometres to the yard.”

Or he’ll tell you about the fellow who caused stock deaths by turning off watering points that cattle had become used to over a period of 18 months while opening others. And then blame the wildlife. “Sheep and cattle haven’t changed. They can’t read a computer, and a kangaroo can’t read a computer either…”

Everyone blaming kangaroos for everything

“Yet,” says Tom, “everyone is blaming the kangaroo for everything (even) for the drought, and nothing is true… This day and age everyone hates kangaroos out in the western area, they hate ‘em. So some people when they have no stock, they turn all their waters off. There’s no kangaroo on that country now.” Or emus.

As an aside, the closure of man-made watering points has also become an article of faith with some strict parks managers, striving for an idealised return to an era considered more natural.

Poisoning of water sources is being reported in this renewed war on wildlife. According to a 2017 report by the national broadcaster, the ABC:









The same 2017 article (by journalist Elly Bradfield) checked with a regional kangaroo processing plant on whether the ‘harvested’ numbers were down in areas with cluster fencing and was told:extract3-cluster-fences-jun2018







The last macropod standing: they can live with us but can we?

The clash between the kangaroo industry and the grazing industry in central Queensland, which either way results in dead kangaroos, has been bemoaned as poor government policy by the kangaroo industry and highlights the central dilemma of the Australian status quo: is the national icon a pest or a product (or something else entirely)?

Out of self-interest, the kangaroo industry is now the spokesperson for wildlife protection in this environment. The president of The Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia, Ray Borda, has criticised the lack of a holistic policy approach to land management in Queensland, saying measures as simple as protecting some wildlife corridors have been ignored.

The same article, looking at all sides, quoted at length from a grazing industry (AgForce) spokesperson saying graziers rely on government counts that purport to show that despite drought and destruction there are more kangaroos than at any time since 1992; that they feel confident with the claim by recreational shooters from the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia’s Farmer Assist program that they adhere to professional shooting standards and that the aim is to rebuild the sheep industry in the area.

Nikki Sutterby for the Australian Society for Kangaroos gave the same reporter a different perspective:

“The kangaroos were here first, so why can’t you give up ten percent of your land for your native animals? The research shows that when you graze kangaroos with stock it can actually increase production.

“The kangaroos are struggling too, but no one has any sympathy for them, everyone just wants them out of their property.

“But we know that when the rains come, they’ll head back out west and won’t be in everybody’s way, so why can’t we feed them just like we do with other livestock and animals? Just chuck them some hay, chuck them a bit of horse feed.

“Especially if it’s a tourist destination and you have tourists and travellers going through, I imagine they’d love seeing the kangaroos.

roos Cunnamulla Cemetery cr Elly Bradfield ABC NewsKangaroos grazing Cunnamulla Cemetery. Townsfolk there testify that the kangaroos are coming in, hungry because of the lack of feed in the paddocks or at times to escape the shooting. Such scenes are not uncommon in rural communities throughout Australia. Australia’s premier animal protection organisation, The RSPCA, in Queensland (and elsewhere) contends wildlife and its treatment is not its problem or remit. Photo ABC News Elly Bradfield.

Lyn Gynther had a parting thought to city-dwellers who may still sometimes see hemmed-in kangaroos in urban spaces: “These people need to remember that all these cities that now take up so much space, (or for that matter grazing/cropping areas) used to be the ten-square-kilometre home-range of these animals. So they’ve just been pushed and pushed.”

Biological collapse predicted

IN THE 1999 edition of The Kangaroo Betrayed animal genetics specialist and veterinarian Ian Gunn from Monash Medical Centre foreshadowed what was likely to happen with practices that have been employed for 40 plus years in all states and, as we see in this western Queensland account, are being escalated to colonial pest removal proportions.

He wrote that continued culling and related practices involving rural production has the potential to precipitate the possible extinction of a number of species. Why?

  1. “The practices of eliminating the largest, healthiest, kangaroos from the selected population.
  2. “The unreliable and largely estimated density figures presented to justify and secure culling permits
  3. And, (this has major influence on what is going on in western NSW and Queensland): “The transfer of species habitat. Since 1940–50, competition for grazing, clearing and culling have significantly altered the species habitat range and the population densities… In NSW there has been a continuing shift of the population concentration further and further west, into areas which are extremely sensitive to climatic variation and increasing grazing pressure”. This is also true of Queensland.

“The evidence is indisputable,” he wrote. ”If left to continue [it] has potential to result in reduced genetic variability, lower reproductive efficiency and a radical reduction in population density below sustainable levels in certain regions of the country when associated with … seasonal conditions such as drought.”

Gunn wrote this sobering prediction some 20 years ago with pessimism about what modern civilisation has achieved in maintaining natural systems. “Civilisation seems hell-bent on a course of self-destruction; destruction of our environment, resources, wildlife and humanity itself.” (The Kangaroo Betrayed, 1999, p39. Australian Wildlife Protection Council Inc.)

Acts of God and private property management

It would not be fair to end this chapter putting all the blame on acts of humans. ‘Acts of God’ also play a role in the plight of the kangaroo species and governments’ inability to reliably predict populations. By ‘acts of God’ I refer to the weather and the recurrent and persistent drought phases that arguably come more frequently as a result of climate change (back to humans there).

In a recent conversation with a CSIRO scientist who also owns a grazing property in western NSW, this became manifest. This man is well disposed toward the remaining wildlife on his property. He’d even like to reintroduce some, like emus, but is up against a blank wall of negative bureaucracy on that count. (Re-introducing native predators, like the dingo, is a step even less open to discussion in Australia.)

He has destocked his land in the extended dry weather. But what happens on his block is also reliant on what is happening next door: the self-determined patchwork of neighbouring private property management. Affecting wildlife movement is how appropriately landholders stock sheep and cattle to suit conditions and whether they shoot kangaroos, wallabies, emus – or don’t. Having no national conservation policy for macropods means there is no regional approach or cooperation between neighbouring properties other than pest management or commercial kill.

The upshot is that some people have a lot of kangaroos on their land because there is feed for a while, because there is safety. In his case the haven extends to a neighbouring national park, not the best habitat and beset by drought as well.  He has in recent times been faced with starvation of kangaroos, worsened by tick infestations, on a regular basis.

It is distressing to see. He has to undertake mercy killings. He says the number of Eastern Grey Kangaroos on his property in competition with other kangaroo species and wallabies for the little remaining forage under drought conditions is not sustainable. Further exclusion measures need to be taken. Maybe fence-off water sources.

Government counts and comfortable kill quotas do not reflect this sombre scenario under climate challenges for Australia’s most iconic animal.


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Kangaroo Counts- Counting Virtual Kangaroos by Maria Taylor – 12/11/2018

How do they get those numbers?

“This could be the greatest wildlife swindle in scientific history… 
In 2011, I reviewed government data finding that kangaroos are in serious long-term decline in New South Wales. I submitted exhaustive scientific evidence detailing critical errors in government population surveys; flaws in the harvest model; systematic inflation of kangaroo numbers; and over-allocation of quotas.

Government population estimates since then show increases that are biologically impossible, ensuring that millions of kangaroos continue to be shot annually from ever-shrinking populations. It’s an industrial-scale slaughter of an international icon.”  

Ray Mjadwesch writing in the Sacramento Bee newspaper at the time the Australian government was trying to convince California to resume kangaroo meat and skin imports.

Read the full article here:

Picture by Ray Drew

In this second Bulletin excerpt from an upcoming book on Australia’s relationship with its unique wildlife — a brutal history layered on colonial values — Bulletin editor Maria Taylor examines the math and methods behind the comfortable present-day belief that unimaginable millions of kangaroos roam the landscape, able to descend in “plague-proportions” on property owners.

The on-ground story of how these numbers are derived and what the true picture might be is far more uncertain and troubling.

This story has gained more currency with the mid-year decision, led by National Party politicians in NSW, to help drought-stricken graziers by declaring what amounts to an open season on killing “too many” kangaroos in the state. So we head there first, and find among other things that welfare and safety questions remain unanswered.

“You do realise there are 5000000000 kangaroos in places in Australia that are not in cities?
Three times the number of cattle and sheep so why not utilise the resource.” 

— Facebook comment on an article about welfare organisations saying ‘stop the slaughter of kangaroos’

A COMMENT LIKE the above about 50 million (or was it 500 million?) is not unusual coming from an Australian. While researching this book and bringing up an invariably fraught subject for many people, (kangaroos) I heard the 50 million repeated reassuringly by various acquaintances and by media.

Australia has internalised a widely-repeated belief about kangaroos and their extravagant overabundance as they eternally bound through the Aussie landscape as shown in advertisements or in government publications.

Many people trust almost any fantastic number without much looking around the wildlife-free landscape. The government statistics allow people to be relaxed and comfortable about whatever is meted out to kangaroos.

In policy terms the treatment of ‘common’ species like kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, emus, cockatoos or flying foxes is always framed as one of abundance, as distinct from risk of endangered status — the message is ‘not to worry’. Environmental laws and government policies/budgets for funding research underpin this thinking.

The fate of common species

Conservation is defined narrowly as avoiding imminent endangerment and extinction. The fate of common species (along with a poor understanding of their interplay with natural ecosystems) has been largely left to the intentions of private property owners or state reserve managers.

As I learned, the situation in 2018 had gone backwards in the eastern states with politicians eager to relieve rural landholders of any government regulation on their self-assessed activities.

Few people are aware that the so-called national conservation status of kangaroos that are not endangered, is simply counting numbers as the basis for commercial harvesting and pest management to suit farmers.

Since a policy was first demanded in the 1980s by overseas governments, there still is no ecological conservation plan. (The United States in particular asked for a conservation plan before imports of kangaroo parts would be allowed.)

The official stance is to simply proclaim that kangaroos are plentiful and not endangered — just as governments did with healthy population of now critically-endangered koalas in the 1920s.

NSW’s new war on wildlife

war on wildlifeIn June 2018, in response to a question in the NSW Parliament, the state government’s National Party Minister for Primary Industries, Regional Water, Trade and Industry Niall Blair gave a classic response filled with the assumptions and prejudices that characterise much of Australian official discussion of the national emblem on the ground.

“The Government and our agencies have a whole-of-government response for the management of kangaroos on behalf of our farmers,” he said genially. “When all agencies work together and the Government has made the decision to adjust the way we administer kangaroo numbers, this is good government.

“Anyone who has recently ventured outside the city limits and into regional New South Wales will tell us that there is an abundance of kangaroos,” he asserted. “These kangaroos have a huge impact not just on pastures and native grasses but also on our roads. The number of collisions with kangaroos has increased hugely, and those conditions are not just with motor vehicles but also with cyclists.

As we go into the colder months and this drought continues, unfortunately large numbers of kangaroos will probably starve to death. The answer to the member’s question is that we have a whole-of-government response to the current plight of regional New South Wales.”

The whole-of-government response soon became transparent in August 2018 when the NSW government decreed what was essentially open killing season on kangaroos in NSW, dropping the already minimal justification or supervision requirements.

The state environment department’s National Parks and Wildlife Service, the legal guardians of the wildlife, were put in charge of implementing the killing of a so-called “protected native species”.

Cut red tape for killing kangaroos, recruit recreational shooters to help
— a NSW election offer?

Was this Minister Blair’s gift to the rural community in the run up to a tight state election? It seemed so.

Putting National Parks on the front line gave arms-length deniability for any possible mishaps — accidental shootings of humans or other animals with high-powered bullets that can travel three kilometres or more; cruelty against the victims; ignoring quotas: shooting any other “protected” native species — what could possibly go wrong with an unsupervised program set in motion without any wider community input or alert?

I asked Minister Blair’s department how the government was vetting the competence or monitoring the activities of recreational shooters that were being recruited by that department through a public website. The website said the shooters would “assist” owners to kill the wildlife.

Landholders and shooters were being matched by Local Land Services which is part of the Primary Industries portfolio. But, “not our department”, responded the Primary Industries media unit, talk to National Parks. But it’s your website, I protested. “Talk to National Parks”, came the response again.

Enter “biodiversity reform team” granting permissions to kill

George Orwell’s famous work 1984 about government propaganda using doublespeak — giving government offices a benign and meaningless name with the opposite intent — may have inspired the NSW government when it badged the “Biodiversity Reform Team”, the unit within National Parks tasked with implementing the kangaroo killing program.

Landholder licences to harm kangaroos cover Oct 2018SIMILAR STORIES:
•  Us and Them: the End Game?

•  Virtual Kangaroo Hordes, questions asked …
Decimation of an Icon

In October 2018 I learned more about what the Biodiversity Reform Team was doing, or not able to do, under their instructions to implement a “non-commercial cull” in what the government ministers decided would be a uniform fashion across the state. High-powered bullets could now fly across small blocks that might be at a village or town perimeter.

Robert Oliver, the spokesperson for the Team, told a Landcare workshop in my region that in little over a month after the government announced the relaxed rules, the number of “consents to harm” had doubled.

Between June 2018 and the 8 September 2018 permission to kill had gone up 100% to 1,115,422 kangaroos — between commercial and non-commercial permits. In the South East Zone, landholders had more than quadrupled their requests and by September had been granted permission to kill 108,567 kangaroos.

No resources to monitor program

Unfortunately the government had no resources for monitoring any of this, he conceded, or to check exactly what was being shot and specifically why, or by whom, or whether a landholder or recreational shooter could accomplish a clean head shot. Or what happened to dependent joeys. No-one was asking.

Instead, National Parks, the legal guardians of the state’s wildlife, were keen to respond to “lots of calls” from landholder groups and the NSW Farmers Association and make harming kangaroos as painless as possible for the landholder to “get the grass back.” Cutting red tape for the farming community was the team’s mission.

[I had a list of questions I had hoped to ask the Department of Primary Industries when I was directed to ask National Parks. There have been no answers forthcoming from either department’s media units. The questions are what any concerned citizen might ask with the potential of recreational or property-owning amateurs shooting the wildlife nearby.]

Ironically the new direction of mass culling to ease complaints of property damage pitched the graziers’ activities into competition with the commercial kangaroo industry for meat and skins, as I learned in Queensland and describe in another chapter – Us and Them: the End Game?

Stephen Wolter from the NSW Kangaroo Management Unit, that administers the commercial hunt with four staff, told the same Landcare workshop that drought across the country had already dropped kangaroo numbers by 10 million (as the population record shows happens every drought period). Here was a disconnect with the favoured “plague-proportion” narrative.

That narrative was firmly in place. Robert Oliver from National Parks had stated that shooting more than a million kangaroos in one year only accounted for about 7.7% of what NSW claimed as a total population at that time. This is the numbers game the state governments play and this is what I wanted to look at more closely.

Welfare outcomes

Steve Garlick of Possumwood with Tulip
Tulip recovering with Steve Garlick of Possumwood. (IMAGE District Bulletin)

Perhaps causing the Landcare audience some discomfort was a graphic account of some of the welfare outcomes of private property shooting activity. The presenter Steve Garlick is a research associate with the University of Technology, Sydney, Centre for Compassionate Conservation.

He also does rescues day and night at Possumwood wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre outside Canberra with his partner physician Rosemary Austen. He showed the assembled landholders pictures of some of the mis-shot kangaroos that had come into care.

Jaws blown-off; stomach shots; leg shots; a recent image of a little doe kangaroo with a bullet lodged at the base of her tail. Local wildlife rescuers regularly find bewildered orphaned joeys. One (by the name of Tulip, seen here with Steve Garlick) had tried to climb back into the pouch of her stomach-shot mother.

These were images from a small cross-section of just the local district which consists of small blocks surrounded by broadacre grazing properties. Garlick reminded the audience there were non-lethal methods to consider if management was necessary.

Where do animals go in a privatized landscape?

(IMAGE District Bulletin)
(IMAGE District Bulletin)

I thought about the fact that in Australia’s mostly privatized landscape, whether it is shooting with a high-powered .308 rifle, high fences, turning off water points, or installing Maremma dogs to get the kangaroos off the property — thus constricting a normally wider-spread density and grazing cycle) – simply means the neighbors get a higher density of animals. “Too many kangaroos” some then cry.

In my hobby-block neighborhood there are high numbers of kangaroos and that includes increasing numbers of wallabies. We are surrounded by grazing blocks where people have been shooting all the while and some bring in their city friends for a ‘bit of sport’ on Saturday nights.

The kangaroos are not flying in from the sky or having biologically impossible birth rates just here. Along with the traditional shooting and as their home-range habitat has gone under new subdivisions, they have found sanctuary where they could be relatively unmolested; where people are willing to share and often appreciate living with the wildlife. But the densities are not natural and far from universal across the wider landscape.

No bounties but similar outcomes

Queensland cluster fences
(IMAGE District Bulletin)

NSW citizens can look north to Queensland to see what happens with the return to lethal “damage” management that is separate and on top of commercial hunting. In all but name and money paid, the values driving the latest removals reflect the 19th-century colonial practice of bounties to remove macropods from the pastoral landscape. In Queensland too, recreational shooters were invited to aid the slaughter.

Queensland pioneered another modern twist to exclude not only dingos but also kangaroos, emus and other wildlife from private properties. Six-foot steel post and ringlock “cluster” fencing across and through multiple properties have worked effectively as death traps as I found out. Taxpayer money subsidized both the fencing and the shooting.

A Queensland government annual environment report for 2017 shows that the numbers of kangaroos killed under such damage mitigation permits, handed out to farmers and graziers with scant or no oversight, increased by tens of thousands in the 10 years since 2009.

Media ignorance compounds fantastic claims

By the end of July 2018 the rural press and the ABC were offering tales of desperate graziers dealing with the fifth or sixth or seventh year of drought in south-western Queensland and more recently in NSW.

Nobody was quoted then about the possible influence of man-made climate change in worsening the length and severity of drought phases.

Tactfully, there was no discussion either about the economic viability of some marginal grazing lands or possible overstocking. But, standing around now bare paddocks, there was talk about blaming the wildlife, kangaroos specifically, to the point of absurdity.

I read articles wherein journalists, without question, were reporting grazier assertions that kangaroo plagues “caused” the drought, backed by eye-popping government population figures.

Often crafted in Sydney or Melbourne, the articles missed balancing issues: that kangaroos die in large numbers in droughts, or that wildlife might also be entitled to feed and water. Where should they go in a sea of private property?

A property owner north-west of Broken Hill told a reporter for News Corps’ The Weekly Times that kangaroos are “putting the area into a drought situation” and that it will last longer because of their presence.

Emus fenced off District Bulletin
(IMAGE District Bulletin)

He said drought conditions had seen the surface water options disappear and that emus and kangaroos were drinking day and night from a bore-water trough raised for stock. This was not acceptable. In his view the underground water belongs to the landholder and his stock, not to be shared with native animals.

The article quoted record numbers of kangaroos said to be present in the NSW in 2016: 17.4 million. (However, a year later in 2017 the count had fallen by three million — not a trivial number to lose from a population. Seven years previously the NSW population officially sat at seven million following an earlier drought.)

In context, I can agree from hard personal experience that once land is degraded by overstocking, soil erosion and native vegetation removal, it is difficult to restore while native grazers prune the green shoots. In my case it was overstock of horses on a native pasture paddock which has never recovered. But is this the wildlife’s fault or due to poor land management?

As I drilled further into how authorities derive the massive population numbers, it was noteworthy that animal welfare; or the stability of kangaroo populations under combined slaughter programs plus drought, flood, disease — were not lead talking points from National Parks under the new government directives.

Instead, state authorities responded to drought and other stress factors after 2013 by maintaining historically high killing quotas for the commercial industry and then opening the parallel non-commercial shooting programs because there were “too many kangaroos”.

How many kangaroos?

Few people remember that the first settlers found a south-eastern landscape of ideal habitat: largely open woodlands and grassy plains thanks to Aboriginal fire management. Some critics of current culling policies have tried to estimate pre-European kangaroo numbers with numerical logic to show that a lot of kangaroos is not abnormal in Australia.

By the 1880s, the number of sheep introduced to Australian native grasslands (let’s conservatively say 50 million), would have been the equivalent of 250 million kangaroos grazing on the same pastures based on modern comparisons of ‘carrying capacity’. This capacity or ‘dry sheep equivalent’ (DSE) postulates that one healthy grown sheep consumes as much grass as 4–7 kangaroos, depending on the kangaroo’s size. (I read in one history that by 1890 settlers had introduced 100 million sheep and eight million cattle.)

In 2017 official national counts of kangaroo species that are hunted hovered around 46 million — a count that had doubled without explanation since 2010 (when it was 25 million); along the way hitting a highpoint in 2013 of 53 million in just three years. Previously, there had been a steady count of around 25 million since 2004.

NSW kangaroo management zones map
Map: NSW Kangaroo Management Zones. [Click to enlarge]

In NSW the official counts had the kangaroo population similarly booming upward from seven million after 2009. Here were population increases of 100% and 150% in three to five years — begging big questions for an animal that biologically only increases its population by 3–10% annually.

High counts advantage
for commercial hunt 

For the commercial industry, whose shooting zones blanket both NSW and Queensland, high kangaroo counts are an advantage both for the abundance narrative and because the kill quota is set at a standard 15–17% of the population regardless of environmental conditions. One recalls that the government’s counting is done on the industry’s behalf.

Recent federal government records show six or (more often) eight million kangaroos have been made available to ‘harvest’ across all states annually between 2013 and 2018 compared with about three million average for the decade previously. These numbers do not include the non-commercial and illegal kills from the recent upsurge of grazier-initiated destruction.

Reality bites kill quotas: different story on the ground

Staying with the commercial industry, animals actually found on the ground tell another story. Consistently low harvest figures: (they have to find the animals before they can kill them) are seconded by the testimony of shooters that the animals are not there as they were 20 to 30 years ago, regardless of record counts and quotas.

The industry’s diligence in killing kangaroos may also be affected by the success of welfare groups’ campaigns to curb overseas demand, documenting meat contamination, as I explore in a later chapter.

In 2015, based on counting almost 50 million kangaroos, the state governments between them offered a national kill quota of seven and a half million kangaroos. However, the actual take was six million shy of that: 1,632,095 or 21.6% of the quota. About one million of that killing activity took place in Queensland after the first years of drought.

NSW too had a red flag suggesting inflated numbers. From the 2017 NSW government quota report I learned that “low harvest rates of all species in all zones in 2015 were equivalent to less than 2.1% of the population”. [Reference:  p10]

There are 114 Kangaroo chillers on properties across NSW. (IMAGE District Bulletin)

The official counts were implying that despite drought, that normally quickly reduces kangaroo populations, somehow this time the macropods were multiplying alarmingly. The commercial hunters were not making enough of a dent. In this way the super-abundance narrative enabled the no holds barred non-commercial killing program that then took hold under the banner of “property damage”.

Declining populations throughout NSW

How do they count the millions of kangaroos on the ground? Keep in mind the government authorities are after estimates of animal units to “harvest”. How they do that is the wildlife survey version of creative accounting as I first learned from a field ecologist working in the pastoral lands of south-eastern NSW.

I met Ray Mjadwesch in 2012 when he was finalising a submission to the NSW Scientific Committee, an advisory body to the state government, warning that all was far from well with the counting methodology and interpretation of kangaroo populations and the popular notion that kangaroo populations can explode to those well-worn “plague proportions”. I wrote about this at the time.

Based in Bathurst, Mjadwesch started looking at the NSW picture after very publicly questioning the Bathurst City Council about the shooting of the resident kangaroo population on Mt Panorama to facilitate a car race in 2009. “There were hardly any kangaroos left in the Bathurst basin,” he says.

He spent the next two years delving into the statistics, population trends and published science of kangaroos. His findings are sobering and led him to file state and federal threatened species nominations for the four harvested macropod species in NSW: Red and Eastern Grey Kangaroos, Wallaroos/Euros and Western Greys.

The nominations trigger a scientific review of the evidence behind current harvest policies. Mjadwesch hoped this might stem further decline and possible collapse of populations. (It didn’t. He was essentially ignored.) It has happened before in Australia from koalas to fisheries when commercial harvesting is at stake.

His analysis of massive datasets from government agencies found declining population trend lines in every NSW kangaroo management zone. “It’s a mess,” he says flatly. “Everyone has accepted the state department data as valid and has not really looked at it on a zone-by-zone basis.”

Nor had many questioned the counting methods and population ‘explosion’ assumptions.

How do they get the numbers?

Kangaroo numbers are sampled out of fixed-wing planes or helicopters. Five to 10 years ago, taking NSW as the example, the samples were multiplied by a theoretical ‘correction factor’ based on vegetation type that substitutes for habitat. A desktop study then finalised theoretical kangaroo density in a commercial harvesting zone. This was then multiplied by the whole potential range of the species in the relevant zones.

“They often apply their density calculation to landscapes which are completely devoid of kangaroos. Often kangaroos only persist in isolated pockets in farming or grazing landscapes, a tiny fraction of their potential range,” notes Mjadwesch.

“For example kangaroo counters allocated high densities to the Bathurst basin, an area of 450 square kilometres where there are nearly no kangaroos. This has inflated figures in the Central Tablelands [a new harvest zone] by tens of thousands of animals.”

National Parks and reserves are excluded from sampling calculation of densities in kangaroo management zones. But Mjadwesch’s enquiries indicated the likelihood of some National Park fly-overs inflating population figures from a different angle.

Despite shifts in methodology since 2012, the basic desk-top nature of the exercise has stayed intact and may have become even more simplified. By 2018, corrected sample densities were being multiplied by the total number of square kilometres across each management/harvest zone. Then add the 14 zones that cover almost the whole state of NSW. Other states use similar methodology. It took me a while to accept it was this simple.

It appears the formula does not subtract the square kilometres of urban areas, (towns, villages) or intensive agricultural areas that include cropping or horticultural areas, or unsuitable habitat. The desk-top conclusions also don’t allow for private grazing properties that conduct extensive pest management, lowering the actual population further. [Reference:]

Qld kangaroo harvest zones 2017In Queensland with three harvest zones (two of which are dedicated to cotton and the other cropping or mining — areas that are not in any way kangaroo habitat anymore) the government relies on higher densities gleaned by fly-overs in the central pastoral zones from Richmond to Cunnamulla (also the zone that has been most heavily pest-eradicated while struck by drought). The authorities then blend higher and lower densities across every square kilometre of the three zones, to achieve the statewide virtual kangaroo numbers.

Numbers fluctuate radically

As well as indications of inflated numbers, big fluctuations are par for the course with kangaroo counting, as national numbers noted earlier show.

Mjadwesch’s trend analyses for NSW leading up to 2012 showed counts fluctuated wildly from one season to the next. 100 percent and even 300% increases suddenly popping up.

Biologically that is impossible for a kangaroo population. Even pigs with litters of 10 piglets can only attain an annual growth rate of 86%; and goats, which frequently bear twins, can only increase at 50% per annum.

Single births, high infant mortality, long mothering

As Mjadwesch and other macropod biologists have pointed out and been ignored, annual net natural kangaroo population increases are no higher than 3–10%.

Fertile females, starting at 3–4 years of age, under normal conditions comprise maybe 50% of the population. That reflects births, natural deaths and high juvenile mortality rates, before acts of God and man. Drought makes this worse and adult mortality can rise to 25% a year.

Unlike pigs, goats and domestic pets, kangaroo females like humans (most of the time) can give birth to just one offspring in a year and may be raising an older dependent joey for a year or longer.

Apart from the Red Kangaroo, adapted to the most arid country, it is a myth that a doe also harbours a spare fetus. On the contrary, other kangaroo species have been observed to stop breeding in hard times.

Mjadwesch did the calculations. Female kangaroos don’t generally start breeding until they’re older than two and a half years and many have stopped by the age of 12 (some females still haven’t bred by 4 or even 5 years old). In the wild, on average, a female has only about 8 joeys in her lifetime.

Juvenile mortality is high, some say 75% is ‘normal’ (pneumonia or other disease, foxes, dogs, now cars). On that basis, out of the eight joeys that are born, and of the two that survive to independence, only one is likely to be female.

Kangaroo populations cannot explode.
That is biologically impossible.

So a kangaroo doe replaces herself (with another reproducing female) once in say 12 years. She also on average produces a surviving male, but they are less important in population growth terms.

“Simply put,” Mjadwesch tells me, “kangaroo populations cannot ‘explode’ or naturally increase to ‘plague proportions’ — this is a biological impossibility; however they can crash, and that is what we are seeing now.”

Warning signs all there

roo skeleton
(IMAGE District Bulletin)

You can shoot a lot of kangaroos for a long time,
but one day they are not there anymore.

The warning signs have been there in all jurisdictions with a long history of harvesting, regardless of the high official counts and abundance narrative laid on for public consumption. In response to declining numbers, state governments have opened new shooting zones where the targets may be easier to find.

In NSW since 2004 the South-East, Northern Tablelands, Hunter and Central Tablelands kangaroo harvest zones have been brought on line. Under the National Party’s new ‘help the farmers program’ two remaining non-commercial zones will be opened up. There is now a drive for Victoria to re-open a commercial kangaroo hunt and focus on the pet food market.

Mjadwesch says what happens in the industry is “they shoot longer hours; they travel further; they shoot smaller animals; they open new harvest zones which makes the raw figures look stable.

“You can shoot a lot of kangaroos for a long time, but soon enough they are not there to shoot. You move on to the next property, and maybe come back to mop up survivors next year, however this cycle eventually creates a landscape where kangaroos are few and far between.”

— End of chapter excerpt. The story continues with Us and Them: the End Game

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Documentary Blows the Lid Off of the Mass Slaughter and Exploitation of Australia’s Beloved Kangaroo

If you haven’t seen the film ‘Kangaroo, A Love-Hate Story’ it’s not too late! There are still screenings around Australia in Feb/March 2019 including Hobart, Lismore, Perth and Newtown in Sydney. Check their website for more screening venues and details.

You can purchase the movie online or better still ‘host your own screening’ to help spread the word about the plight of kangaroos Australia wide.

Australia’s Dark Side

‘Mick McIntyre and Kate McIntyre Clere, the producers, writers, and directors behind Kangaroo, wanted to get at the heart to this love-hate relationship and set out to interview prominent figures on both sides of the issue. As the documentary shows, this complex issue is one that people need to start talking about.’

“We have an iconic animal, which is one of Australia’s most precious animals and we’re advocating bashing its brains out against a rock. That can’t be the right thing to do in the 21st-century in my minds,” said Professor Clive Phillips, Professor of Animal Welfare University of Queensland.’

Read the full article by Michelle Neff of here:

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‘Kangaroo’ Film Makers Call for a National Inquiry- Sign the Petition

‘We Call for an URGENT NATIONAL INQUIRY into the Ongoing Mistreatment of Kangaroos

Kangaroos are a much-loved international icon, recognized around the world as part of Australia’s unique identity. We are deeply concerned that the killing of kangaroos has become the largest wildlife slaughter on the planet.

After spending 5 years making our award winning film “KANGAROO a Love Hate Story” we have been shocked to learn about the brutal treatment of kangaroos across Australia.

Many proud Australians, scientists, politicians and indigenous representatives have come forward presenting us with eyewitness testimony and evidence proving systematic cruelty against our national icon.

A group of international academics have written a letter raising concerns about the ongoing exploitation, abuse and lack of population transparency surrounding the treatment of this unique species. Please read their letter and SPEAK UP for kangaroos NOW.’

Full details and petition here:

Exert from

© 2018 Hopping Pictures. All rights reserved.


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Caring for Wildlife- Maria Taylor visits two local heros of animal medicine and welfare in south-east NSW

Maria Taylor visits two local heros of animal medicine and welfare in south-east NSW in this excerpt from her forthcoming book.

‘What are kangaroos like personally?

I ask him what is his experience with macropods, the kangaroos on a personal, behavioural level? They are all different, he answers — physiology, behaviour, different age groups, and response to treatment or anaesthesia requiring different levels of sedation and post-operative care — which makes his work such a specialised field. “They are all individuals, not just a furry opportunity to kill something.

“Talking about Eastern Grey kangaroos, being the ones that get the worst rap usually, they’re lovely creatures in fact. They are quite endearing, very gentle in their behaviour. Just because some large male kangaroo that is protecting the mob gets cranky when people invade, that’s normal.

“From our perspective, we’re dealing with them all the time, they are very gentle and quite tuned into human behaviour and needs. Even though they come from the wild, in a very short time they adapt to what we need them to do, with feeding and so forth.’

See the full article here:

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