This article provides a detailed discussion of the laws governing kangaroo culling in Australia. The paper analyses both the commercial and non-commercial industry and makes an evaluation as to the legislation's effectiveness. The article also discusses other issues such as enforcement, animal and consumer welfare, as well as the sustainability of the industry.
The furry and friendly image of the kangaroo is often used to represent the idea that something is unofficially ‘Australian’. Indeed, the official symbol of Australia (the coat of arms) is a picture of a kangaroo and an emu effectively holding up the six Australian states. When tourists visit Australia, they inevitably look for souvenirs with a kangaroo sticker, indicating that the product was made in Australia. The 1960s television show ‘Skippy’, about a boy and his adventures with his pet kangaroo was one of the most popular children’s television shows of the era.
However, kangaroos have come to be viewed in Australia in a decidedly different manner. Some research suggests that kangaroo numbers have increased to epic proportions and, as a result, are destroying crops and grassland areas meant for grazing animals such as sheep and cattle. As such, kangaroos are seen by some as pests. While, the commercial ‘culling’ or ‘harvesting’ of kangaroos is common practice in Australia, there is growing doubt as to the rationale and sustainability of the industry.
This paper will firstly discuss the legislative regime governing the killing of kangaroos for commercial and non-commercial purposes. Secondly, the enforcement issues surrounding the regulatory system will be canvassed. Thirdly, the animal and consumer welfare concerns will be examined and finally, the sustainability of the industry will be analysed.
II. CULLING OF KANGAROOS
A. Commercial killing or ‘harvesting’
While kangaroos have been in Australia for two million years, the killing of kangaroos in Australia for commercial purposes and export is a practice that has only become common fairly recently. Under Australian law, hunters can only shoot kangaroos for commercial purposes if they have a licence to do so. The regime has an overall quota of how many kangaroos are to be killed for commercial purposes each year. For example, in 2009, the kangaroo quota was just under 4 million kangaroos. Also, only certain species of kangaroo can be killed under the regulatory regime – four species of kangaroo thought to be most abundant, and two wallaby species. These species are the Red kangaroo, Eastern grey kangaroo, Western grey kangaroo, Common Wallaroo (Euro), Bennett’s wallaby and the Tasmanian Pademelon. (See the National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Commercial Purposes 2008 ).
The context of the legislative framework for kangaroo management is complex. Firstly, the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (‘EPBC Act’) requires states to develop approved wildlife trade management plans in order for permits to be issued for the commercial export of wildlife products (see the Act at http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/about/index.html ). Five Australian states currently have these approved Kangaroo Management Plans – New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia. However, in order for kangaroo products to be exported, Commonwealth Government approval is required under the EPBC Act.
In New South Wales, the Kangaroo Management Plan sets out the various zones where kangaroos can be shot. For example, New South Wales has specific areas set aside, such as national parks and nature reserves, and kangaroos cannot be taken for commercial purposes from these areas. The management of kangaroos in these areas is regulated under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 NSW . The New South Wales Kangaroo Management Plan also details the licensing requirements for the particular state. Each state and territory has a different governing authority, which in turn requires shooters to have a licence or permit in order to undertake the commercial shooting of kangaroos, regardless of whether the shooting occurs on public or private land. In order to obtain a licence, the landholder must first apply for an occupier’s licence and nominate a licensed harvester to undertake the shooting. Both licences are required for the commercial harvesting of kangaroos. Similarly, in order to deal in other activities relevant to commercial kangaroo harvesting, other specific licences must be obtained (ie a skin dealer or fauna dealer’s licence). In order to obtain a harvester’s licence, the applicant must have a valid Firearms licence and also must have completed a specific harvester’s accreditation program.
The National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Commercial Purposes 2008 (‘the Commercial Code’) is a code that ‘sets an achievable standard of humane conduct and is the minimum required of persons shooting kangaroos and wallabies.' The Commercial Code is implemented ‘through education and relevant government authority legislation as appropriate.’ The purpose of the Commercial Code is to govern the way kangaroos are killed, and to minimise their pain and suffering. The Commercial Code only governs those hunters that shoot kangaroos for a commercial purpose. A commercial purpose is ‘where the animal shot is to be used as product to be sold within Australia or overseas.’ The Commercial Code does not override state and territory animal welfare legislation, but was formulated to exist alongside it.
In order to sell kangaroo carcasses to a registered fauna dealer, licence holders must have shot kangaroos in accordance with the specific rules outlined in the Commercial Code . These include aiming for a shot to the brain or heart, and using only specified firearms and ammunition. As well, the Commercial Code states that any female kangaroos or wallabies, sick or injured animals must be thoroughly searched for any pouch young. Any young found are to be euthanised by specific methods outlined as follows:
Description of Young
Acceptable Euthanasia Method
Small furless pouch young (fits within the palm of the hand)
Single forceful blow to the base of the skull sufficient to destroy the functional capacity of the brain.
Stunning, immediately followed by decapitation by rapidly severing the head from the body with a sharp blade.
All furred pouch young
Single forceful blow to the base of the skull sufficient to destroy the functional capacity of the brain.
Young at foot
Single shot to the brain or heart where it can be delivered accurately and in safety using the firearms and ammunition specified in Part A or B of Schedule 1.
The Commercial Code states that:
When shooting a kangaroo or wallaby, the primary objective must be to achieve instantaneous loss of consciousness and rapid death without regaining consciousness. For the purposes of the Code, this is regarded as a sudden and humane death.
While the definition may be met for the purposes of the Commercial Code, there are concerns as to whether the euthansasia procedures outlined above could be classed as ‘humane’ in any other setting.
B. Non-commercial killing
The National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Non-Commercial Purposes (‘the Non-Commercial Code’) is a code that ‘sets an achievable standard of humane conduct and is the minimum required of persons shooting kangaroos and wallabies for reasons other than commercial utilisation of kangaroo products (skins and meat).’
Non-commercial circumstances differ between the states and territories. However, some of the non-commercial purposes can include:
- damage mitigation (all states and territories);
- recreational hunting (Tasmania); and
- for the provision of meat for pest animal control programs.
The main justification for the non-commercial cull, is due to government claims claims that kangaroos damage ecosystems and thus endanger the livelihood of other native animals.
Similarly to the Commercial Code outlined above, ‘the requirements of the Non-Commercial Code do not override state or territory animal welfare legislation. A lack of knowledge of relevant state or territory animal welfare legislation is no defence against prosecution for animal welfare offences.’
The Non-Commercial Code sets out similar specifications, such as the type of rifle and ammunition which should be used and how kangaroos and wallabies are to be killed. However, while the use of shot guns is prohibited in the Commercial Code, the Non-Commercial Code allows their use in certain circumstances. Such circumstances may include:
- shooting of small wallaby species for non-commercial purposes at close range in or adjacent to forest or scrub in South Australia and Tasmania only;
- euthanasing injured or sick kangaroos and wallabies;
- euthanasing pouch young or young at foot at close range; or
- shooting kangaroos and wallabies that present a health or safety risk to humans, in accordance with the relevant government authority.
The Non-Commercial Code states that:
[T]here is no competency testing regime for non-commercial kangaroo and wallaby shooters nor is there an intention to introduce a regime. However, relevant government authorities are encouraged to promote measures to ensure competence of non-commercial shooters.
For example, in the Australian Capital Territory, shooters are required to take a competency test, as well as a macropod identification test. The ACT is the only state to test the accuracy of non-commercial shooters.
In the Australian Capital Territory, the Animal Welfare (Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies) Code of Practice was recently introduced in June 2013 (see http://www.legislation.act.gov.au/di/2013-95/current/pdf/2013-95.pdf ). The Code was made under the relevant state animal welfare legislation (the Animal Welfare Act 1992 ) yet, merely approves the National Non-Commercial Code. Therefore, the Non-Commercial Code seems to act as the overarching guide in terms of determining what manner kangaroos should be killed for non-commercial purposes.
The fact that there is no competency test for shooters, coupled with the permissible use of shot guns, has led to obvious questions of the humaneness of killing kangaroos for non-commercial purposes. Animal activist groups such as Animal Liberation ACT and the Australian Society for Kangaroos have recently lodged an appeal in the Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal, asking that the yearly cull be temporarily suspended in the Australian Capital Territory. The planned cull, which would have seen 1,455 Eastern grey kangaroos killed, has currently been stayed, following the Tribunal’s decision on 12 June 2013. (See http://www.canberratimes.com.au/environment/animals/roos-get-stay-of-execution-20130607-2ntzb.html ).
In 2009, similar efforts were made by animal activist groups to prevent a planned cull that was to take place on the Majura Training Land or ‘MTA’ in Canberra (see Animal Liberation v Conservator of Flora and Fauna (Administrative Review) at http://www.acat.act.gov.au/judgment/view/4191/title/animal-liberation-v-conservator-of . By the time an injunction was obtained, 3,838 kangaroos had already been shot. The Tribunal found that:
There is compelling evidence that the number of Eastern Grey Kangaroos at the MTA has been increasing rapidly in recent years to the point where it has exceeded the carrying capacity of the land and, as a consequence, has caused substantial damage to declared ecological communities and declared threatened species. In order to prevent further damage and to enable the degraded areas to recover, it is necessary to reduce the kangaroo population at the MTA substantially.
( Animal Liberation v Conservator of Flora and Fauna). The Tribunal therefore confirmed the granting of the original licence and the culling of 7,000 kangaroos continued as first planned.
Non-commercial culling of kangaroos is usually undertaken at night, in remote areas. However, the 2009 cull was in a more developed area and, as such, was widely publicised and subject to much public scrutiny. The humaneness of the non-commercial killing of kangaroos has therefore been the subject of much community debate.
III. ENFORCEMENT ISSUES
Despite the national codes for both the commercial and non-commercial killing of kangaroos, thousands of kangaroos die each year in an inhumane manner. One report from the RSPCA suggests that 100,000 kangaroos are not killed humanely in the commercial industry alone (RSCPA Australia (2002): Kangaroo Shooting Code Compliance – A Survey of the Extent of Compliance with the Requirements of the Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos available at http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/wildlife-trade/publications/kangaroo-report/ ).
The reason for lack of industry compliance with the Codes is primarily due to issues concerning enforcement. The shooting of kangaroos, both for commercial and non-commercial purposes, often happens at night and in remote areas. Therefore, the humaneness or otherwise of the practices adopted are hidden from public scrutiny and police. Further, kangaroo carcasses are then processed in ‘chillers’ – refrigerated shipping containers, that are also located in remote areas. Auditors do undertake spot checks in chillers, however these occur infrequently. Previous spot checks undertaken have shown a high number of neck shots as the cause of death, as opposed to the recommended head shot, as outlined in the Commercial Code.
While it is impossible to know the exact amount of kangaroos left wounded each year, it is estimated that at least 120,000 kangaroos suffer non-fatal body shots (THINKK Report available at http://s3.amazonaws.com/thinkk_production/resources/17/DO_THE_ENDS_JUSTIFY_THE_MEANS_THINKK_August__2011_full_version_compressed.pdf ). While the Commercial Code states that all wounded animals should be pursued and killed, this is unlikely to occur, as shooters are only paid for carcasses that have been head-shot. For example, an independent assessment of compliance with the Commercial Code carried out by Animal Liberation New South Wales between 2005 and 2008, identified an average of 40% of kangaroos per chiller in 24 chillers throughout New South Wales and Queensland as being neck shot.
Similarly, the requirement to kill all young kangaroos, whose mothers have been killed is highly impractical. Reports suggest that kangaroos are very timid animals and will most likely try and flee if they are provoked or harassed therefore, the likelihood of young being left to fend for themselves is high.
The New South Wales Handbook for Kangaroo Harvesters states that:
Shooting in accordance with the National code of practice for the humane shooting of kangaroos and wallabies for commercial purposes (the Code) (or approved future codes) is the only acceptable method of killing kangaroos.
It further states that:
Compliance with the Code is a condition of Commercial Fauna Harvester’s Licences and Occupier’s Licences… It is your responsibility to ensure you are familiar with its contents.
(See the handbook at http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/nature/kmp/10160Hbkangharvesters.pdf ). Therefore, licence holders are responsible for educating themselves as to the conditions of their permit or licence. As such, the issues with enforcing the various kangaroo management Codes in Australia are inherently a result of the self-regulatory nature of the regime.
IV. WELFARE CONCERNS
A. Animal welfare
The animal welfare issues that arise as a result of both the Commercial and Non-Commercial Codes are myriad. If the Codes are complied with, (i.e. in the best case scenario) young kangaroos and joeys are killed either by decapitation, having their heads ‘forcefully’ bashed in, so as to ‘destroy the functional capacity of the brain’. At worst, they are left to die from starvation, dehydration, exposure or predation.
Approximately 133,000 and 280,000 young‐at‐foot and 372,000 and 783,000 pouch young are estimated to die annually as a collateral effect of the commercial industry. This translates to a long‐term average of approximately 800,000. These estimates relate to the commercial industry only as those killed for non-commercial purposes are much more difficult to predict. RSPCA Australia has recommended that the only way to ensure cruelty to pouch young is avoided, is to cease the killing of female kangaroos altogether. However, these recommendations are not likely to be adopted by the Australian government as currently, the number of females killed in the commercial industry is high. For example, in South Australia, ‘typically 50% of harvested kangaroos are female’ (THINKK Report at http://s3.amazonaws.com/thinkk_production/resources/17/DO_THE_ENDS_JUSTIFY_THE_MEANS_THINKK_August__2011_full_version_compressed.pdf ).
Further, the number of kangaroos that are not killed in accordance with the Codes is difficult to estimate. One report suggests a conservative estimate to be 4.1% of kangaroos that are mis-shot annually however, the report also states that the actual figure is likely to be much higher as ‘there is virtually no monitoring of killing in the field and random auditing is unlikely due to the small scale, dispersed and remote nature of the industry’ (THINKK Report at http://s3.amazonaws.com/thinkk_production/resources/17/DO_THE_ENDS_JUSTIFY_THE_MEANS_THINKK_August__2011_full_version_compressed.pdf ). For example, one independent assessment suggests that the number of mis-shot kangaroos in the commercial industry could be as high as 40 percent. It is illegal to process kangaroos for human consumption other than those killed by a head-shot. However recent evidence taken from store chillers from 2005 to 2008 demonstrates that 40% of the kangaroos were not head-shot. As one report demonstrates:
The easiest and most convenient method of removing the head from the carcass is by a simple cut through the atlantal-occipital joint. That is between the skull and the first cervical vertebrae. If the cut is made further down the cervical vertebrae, the bone structure of the vertebrae make it difficult to make a clean cut because of the overlapping nature of the latter cervical vertebrae. There is no reason why a neck would be cut below the atlantal-occipital joint apart from removing evidence of failure to deliver a clean head shot because:
1) there would be loss of carcass weight with loss of income;
2) it is more difficult to cut through the spinal cord.
(See A Shot in the Dark, A Report on Kangaroo Harvesting , Dror Ben-Ami, PhD, On behalf of Animal Liberation NSW 2009 available at http://www.kangaroo-protection-coalition.com/shotinthedark.html). These necks were clearly indicated by short neck and a rough cut through cervical vertebrae giving the appearance of rough frayed tissues (Testimonial of Desmond Sibraa – former meat inspector for the New South Wales and Federal government, available at Appendix 1 in A Shot in the Dark, A Report on Kangaroo Harvesting , Dror Ben-Ami, PhD, On behalf of Animal Liberation NSW 2009 available at http://www.kangaroo-protection-coalition.com/shotinthedark.html ).
As there is no auditing of compliance with the Codes, it is difficult to obtain a clear picture of the extent of the animal welfare concerns relating to the industry. One commentator states, particularly in relation to young kangaroos:
At present there is simply no reliable evidence of their fate or the extent to which their welfare is compromised. This issue cannot go on being ignored and remains, arguably, the highest priority.
( What are the concerns and how can they be addressed? RSPCA Australia Scientific Seminar 2010. Canberra, ACT, Australia, RSPCA Australia, available at https://www.rspca.org.au/sites/default/files/website/The-facts/Science/Scientific-Seminar/2010/SciSem2010-Proceedings.pdf ).
B. Consumer welfare
The Kangaroo Industry has previously estimated its net worth to be $200 million. The commercial kangaroo industry employs about 4,000 people, primarily shooters and those processing kangaroo meat. However, other reports from the 2010/2011 period show the export revenue generated from kangaroo products (meat for human consumption, pet food, hides) to be less than $50 million. The significant drop in revenue may be related to recent health scares associated with kangaroo meat, that have shown high levels of bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. (See THINKK report, http://thinkkangaroos.uts.edu.au/issues/hygiene ).
As kangaroos are shot in the wild, there are a number of health and consumer welfare concerns associated with the commercial industry. The kangaroo meat industry is regulated by the Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production of Wild Game Meat for Human Consumption and the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code. The main problems in terms of consumer welfare in producing kangaroo meat (and all game meat) for human consumption, is that game animals are killed in largely unmonitored and unhygienic conditions and are often stored in refrigerated chillers for long amounts of time before they are consumed. (See THINKK report, http://thinkkangaroos.uts.edu.au/issues/hygiene ).
In 2008, Animal Liberation NSW performed biopsies on kangaroos located in remote chillers in Queensland. The abnormal bacteria formulation was so high in the meat found that the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service issued an ‘E. coli Alert’. In 2009, similar problems led Russia, one of the biggest importers of kangaroo meat, to ban all kangaroo imports for four years. The ban only lifted in 2012, after a Russian led delegation came to Australia and examined the meat process and the Australian kangaroo industry for three weeks. (See THINKK report, http://thinkkangaroos.uts.edu.au/issues/hygiene ).
Dr David Obendorf is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board to the International Animal Health Body, Paris (Office des Internationale Epizooties) and an Australian wildlife veterinary pathologist. In relation to diseases which may affect kangaroos, Dr Obendorf has stated that ‘[k]angaroos … can harbour a wide range of parasitic bacterial, fungal and viral diseases’. (See THINKK report, http://thinkkangaroos.uts.edu.au/issues/hygiene ).
Apart from the diseases naturally present in kangaroos, there is also the risk of further health complications from human consumption of kangaroo meat, as a result of a fatal epidemic that has swept through wild kangaroo populations. From the 1950s there has been reports of an epidemic resulting in 25-80% mortality rate in a period of 1-2 weeks in wild kangaroo populations in Queensland and New South Wales. The clinical signs of the epidemic relate to a central nervous system disease however, the actual virus and how it may impact on humans is yet to be accurately identified. (See THINKK report, http://thinkkangaroos.uts.edu.au/issues/hygiene ).
Bacterial infections such as salmonellosis and toxoplasmosis present in kangaroo carcasses may also have serious health implications for humans. As many as one in two kangaroo carcasses have salmonella bacteria present and the infection can be spread to humans from handling, processing or consuming the affected meat. Similarly, other parasites such as cyst-forming tapeworm and parasitic worms are also present in both captive and wild kangaroo populations. (See THINKK report, http://thinkkangaroos.uts.edu.au/issues/hygiene ).
Further health issues relating to the storing of chilled kangaroo meat is also cause for concern. While the Standard states that sick or injured animals are not to be processed, there is no way of knowing if a kangaroo was sick or injured, once it is strung up and headless in a refrigerated chiller. Identifying diseased carcasses is unlikely, unless there are obvious lesions or discolouration in the meat. One former meat inspector has stated that ‘some infections are difficult or impossible to detect.’
V. LOOKING FORWARD: SUSTAINABILITY OF THE INDUSTRY
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading states that:
Most kangaroos have no set breeding cycle and are able to breed all year round. Because they are such prolific breeders, a kangaroo population can increase fourfold in five years if it has continuous access to plentiful food and water.
(See Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading, Kangaroos at http://www.dfat.gov.au/facts/kangaroos.html ). However other reports from ecologists suggest that kangaroo populations are actually at risk, largely due to mismanagement of the state and territory kill quotas. For example, commercial kill quotas do not take into account the number of kangaroos killed for non-commercial purposes, nor do they taken into account the number of collateral joeys and young that are killed.
As a result of the above, many animal welfare organisations have suggested that the ability to kill kangaroos, both for commercial and non-commercial purposes be made illegal in Australia. However, one report suggests that:
ironically, should the ability to legally take out superabundant kangaroos be removed, killing would still most likely occur illegally and thus because of the remoteness of most operations, any control that the government had over animal welfare would disappear and the situation would likely be much worse.
(Kangaroo Industry Association Australia (KIAA) Submission to Government Report available at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=rrat_ctte/completed_inquiries/1996-99/wild/report/c09.htm#FOOTNOTE_54 ).
The kangaroo industry in Australia is largely rationalised due to the belief that kangaroos destroy crops and compete with farmed livestock for food. However, recent studies have shown that Red Kangaroos ‘consistently avoid areas used by sheep’ and that ‘woolgrowers will not get the benefits they seek from a reduction in kangaroo numbers’ ( A Shot in the Dark, A Report on Kangaroo Harvesting , Dror Ben-Ami, PhD, On behalf of Animal Liberation NSW 2009 available at http://www.kangaroo-protection-coalition.com/shotinthedark.html ).
Other studies that claim kangaroos are pests and are present in over-abundant populations have been refuted by the argument that kangaroos have previously been present in greater numbers than they are currently, and that there is actually no need to cull kangaroos:
kangaroo populations have a dynamic state of equilibrium which means that they naturally undergo boom and bust population cycles. This is thought to be a reproductive adaptation to the unpredictable Australian climate.
( A Shot in the Dark, A Report on Kangaroo Harvesting , Dror Ben-Ami, PhD, On behalf of Animal Liberation NSW 2009 available at http://www.kangaroo-protection-coalition.com/shotinthedark.html ).
As can be seen, the commercial and non-commercial culling of kangaroos in Australia is fraught with practical, ethical and regulatory difficulties. The Commercial and Non-Commercial Codes’ effectiveness is clearly questionable and in need of urgent reform. Further, the industry related issues of animal welfare, both for adult kangaroos and their young, as well as for humans and pets, provide much cause for concern. Finally, while recent studies have demonstrated that the sustainability of the cull is doubtful, the industry continues in Australia unabated.