Kangaroos face biggest cull ever

5 March 2002

Almost seven million of Australia's kangaroos are due to be killed this year, after the Australian government gave the green light to the annual cull. It is the largest quota ever, representing 15-20% of Australia's total kangaroo population, and is based on recommendations from scientists. Under the strictly regulated system, each region of Australia is given the number of kangaroos that can be killed by licensed 'harvesters' (as the hunters are called). Harvesting is restricted to land used for primary production and does not take place in national parks or state forests. Once thought only good enough for pet food, kangaroo meat is now considered a delicacy. The soft kangaroo hides are also highly valued by overseas tanneries. According to Environment Australia, the government's environment agency, controlling kangaroo numbers is part of the process of managing 'total grazing pressure', that is keeping a sustainable balance of wildlife and domesticated animals. The problem is that since colonisation two centuries ago, Europeans have created perfect conditions for kangaroos to thrive. Supporters of the cull say it is as 'humane' as possible, and point to a 1985 report by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which noted that: 'The curtailment of a controlled system of kangaroo culling would not reduce the number of kangaroos killed but would force landholders to use methods considered inhumane.' But killing the kangaroo for profit is an emotional issue. Twelve Australian environmental groups are joining forces to mount a legal challenge to the quota. Local groups are joined in their fight by British animal campaign group VIVA! (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals), whose highly charged 'Save the Kangaroo' campaign has received global coverage, with support from famous vegetarians such as ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. Accusing Australia of 'turning its outback into a slaughterhouse', VIVA! has persuaded major UK supermarket chains to dump kangaroo meat and is also targeting the commercial use of kangaroo skins. It criticised two of the world's leading soccer stars, Michael Owen and David Beckham, for wearing kangaroo-hide soccer boots. Charlie Sherwin, biodiversity coordinator for the Australian Conservation Foundation, says ACF is opposed to the culling of wildlife for commercial objectives, but not necessarily for ecological ones. 'If kangaroos are having an adverse effect on the ecology of an area, then a cull is potentially OK', says Sherwin. 'But species can go from great abundance to terminal decline relatively quickly. You just can't afford to have a few species targeted so aggressively for commercial reasons.' But one of Australia's foremost kangaroo experts disagrees. 'The quota represents a sustainable level of offtake', says Tony Pople. 'It is frustrating when groups make allegations about the harvest not being sustainable when there's no evidence for that. It is, in fact, one of the better managed harvests.' Meanwhile, commercial shooters like Ray Cross can't understand the fuss. He says the kangaroo population has never been larger, and that culling is needed to keep the numbers down. 'There are more kangaroos out there than I've seen in 12 years', says Cross.

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