Jumping the Gun

Image: Jumping the Gun

Over the years, debate on the sensitive issue of culling has polarised opinion, with scientists, ecologists, environmental and animal protection groups, policy-makers, farmers, Indigenous groups and hunters seemingly no closer to agreement on the commercial killing of kangaroos.

To promote further debate and foster independent research on the topic, UTS has established an innovative think-tank, called THINKK, set up by macropod ecologists at the University's Institute for Sustainable Futures.

They realised that much of the research available was about the ways to kill kangaroos and that government policy had not comprehensively examined whether this method of management was most appropriate or even needed.

THINKK (The Think Tank for Kangaroos), launched late last year with a donation from the Sherman Foundation, has since attracted support from philanthropists – notably a generous grant from the The Lord Mayor Clover Moore MP Salary Trust. It aims to help foster understanding among Australians about kangaroos living in a sustainable landscape by reviewing kangaroo management practices and exploring non-lethal management methods that are consistent with ecology, animal welfare, human health and ethics.

This is a controversial topic and some of THINKK's recent findings raised questions and challenged existing thinking and practices in this area. As a result further research and debate is important.

Research fellow Keely Boom has been investigating the legal and policy issues surrounding culling.

"We are looking at a gap in research and knowledge around kangaroos," she says. "The current management has come out of kangaroos being seen as pests, but we don't understand the benefits they may give to the landscape.

"It's a controversial area, because there are always people who support culling or killing for meat, and others who think it's the worst thing you can do."

Boom is employed as a part-time research fellow with THINKK, which otherwise relies on volunteers, including scientists and sustainability experts.

The organisation has exciting plans for future projects including researching Indigenous perspectives on kangaroo management, developing policies for kangaroo management, extensive field work and the publication of peer reviewed articles.

THINKK also wants to research the perspectives of farmers: what damage they think kangaroos are causing and whether culling achieves any tangible outcomes.

"It's an interesting area to research because there are lots of different views out there," says Boom. "There's a lot of public value in researching the issues and disseminating the information through reports, peer-reviewed publications and media and then using that to influence government policy."

In a UTSpeaks public lecture called 'Killing Skippy', Dr Dror Ben-Ami addressed the contentious issue of harvesting and eating kangaroos as a means to protect the environment.

"Emerging science does not support the notion that kangaroos are over-abundant pests that compete with livestock for resources and there is no evidence of sheep replacement occurring over the past 20 years," he said.

"Eating and placing a commercial value on kangaroos will not save the Australian environment but does create conservation and animal welfare concerns."

Indigenous expert adviser to THINKK, 'Uncle' Max Dulumunmun Harrison, senior elder of the Yuin people, said kangaroos were regarded as a sacred animal in the Aboriginal Dreaming and laws, and should not be killed.

The prescribed method for killing kangaroos is with a shot to the brain. Kangaroos are killed in the field and the objective is to achieve instantaneous death. THINKK believes there are two key welfare issues with the commercial killing of kangaroos.

Every year 855,000 dependent young die as a waste product of the commercial kill. There is no routine field auditing of compliance with the National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos (Commercial Purposes) into the manner of killing of pouch young or to the fate of dependent young. Ecological data suggests the young are highly unlikely to survive without their mothers and will die of starvation, dehydration, exposure or predation.

Also, field data suggests that, annually, anywhere from 120,000 to more than a million kangaroos are shot by mis-hits. It is not known how many are left behind because there is virtually no monitoring of killing in the field.

THINKK has published three reports since its launch: Shooting our wildlife: An analysis of the law and policy governing the killing of kangaroos; Advocating kangaroo meat: Towards ecological benefit or plunder?; and The welfare implications of commercial kangaroo culling: Do the ends justify the means?

If you would like further information or would like to help support THINKK's research, please email Liz.Hardy@uts.edu.au

Words: Dominique Antarakis