OPINION: Australia’s Landscapes of Fear

Peter Hylands reports from Australia, where the killing of kangaroos is commonplace and the population estimates and hunting permits just don’t seem to match.

OPINION: By PETER HYLANDS on OCT 10, 2019 | The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect the views of Animals Australia.
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I am sitting at the edge of a woodland, much of this area already cleared of its trees. It is a warm day; spring is almost here. The scent from the sun-warmed Eucalypts is intense. A parrot screeches overhead.

I try to stay completely still. Just in front of me is a female Eastern Grey Kangaroo with a joey at her side. This is the first day the young animal has left its mother’s pouch. Watching a mother with her young Kangaroo is always such a joy. The beautiful young animal skips in a little circle around her mother, unsteady but graceful too. All is peaceful as they snuggle up together, mother ever watchful, joey ever ready to climb back into the pouch. Their love for each other is there for us all to see.

I will be back tomorrow to watch them again. Nature is wonderful.

What I see the following morning makes me feel sick, in heart and stomach. The mother’s head lies severed in the dust: blood and other liquids leak from her mouth and nose, her entrails smudged on the earth, her legs and fore-limbs docked and thrown to one side.

In this gruesome and cruel scene, I search for the joey. The beautiful animal is still alive; half its face is torn away. Its body stomped and broken. It looks like our little joey was wrenched from its mother’s pouch, and its head smashed against a fence post. Then the joey was thrown into a bush.

As my tears spill onto the little joey, she dies. In the journey to death last night, there would have been hours of agony for this tiny animal. Its joy of life so evident a few hours ago, cut short by a vicious and cruel attack.

What I describe here occurs across the Australian Continent. It occurs every night and over and over again to thousands of these animals across a whole range of species. This callous and immensely cruel behaviour is promoted and supported by Australia’s Federal and State Governments who claim the slaughter is humane, sustainable, necessary, and good for the environment. None of these things are remotely true.

Welcome to Australia’s landscapes of fear.

The Killing of Kangaroos

The endless negative propaganda coming from both politicians and their public servants across a whole range of species includes claims that species were once rare and are now suddenly abundant and exploding in population because of European settlement, and the changed landscape. That is, populations of animals supposedly explode, even though they are being shot en masse, though the forests that they once lived in are cleared, waterways are damaged, fire regimes are changed and the numerous introduced species now either replacing them or predating them, and on the list goes.

Kangaroos and Koalas are among the many to supposedly benefit from our largesse Recent history tells a rather different story in its numerous extinctions: not surprisingly, Australia leads the world in biodiversity loss and the extinction of mammal species.

One serious threat to Kangaroo populations is the toxicity of invasive species of plants. A careful inspection of the ground almost anywhere you can imagine on the continent will reveal a plant species that should not be there.

Australia’s state governments promote the ‘commercial harvesting’ of Kangaroos. The animals are killed for pet food, some human consumption, and their skins. This is not the only way these beautiful animals are decimated. Shockingly, as injured Kangaroos lie helpless on roadsides, body parts are taken while they are still alive: upper limbs and scrotums.

Following scandals and disasters in the 1980s, and not able to learn the lessons from the past, the State of Victoria has recently reintroduced the commercial trade in wildlife for three species of Kangaroo, the Eastern Grey, the Western Grey, and the Red Kangaroo. In the other states of Australia, the slaughter of Kangaroos is at a much larger scale than Victoria.

It is even more extraordinary that the Victorian Government continues to claim that wildlife is protected. I can tell you that this is not the case.

How scandalous the use of data to justify the slaughter is, can be demonstrated by the circumstances for the Red Kangaroo in Victoria. When challenged, the government has not answered any of my detailed questions regarding the matters I describe here, beyond the general spin that says everything is just fine, please go away.

Maths can be wonderful and complex. Kangaroo maths are the most puzzling of all. Here is a Kangaroo puzzle from the Victorian Government in Australia.

The Red Kangaroo is one of many species of macropods. Just so you understand the plight of these awesome animals, seven species of macropod are extinct (lost and gone forever), six more species are critically endangered, 10 more are endangered and a further 23 species are threatened or vulnerable (in their range of Australia and Papua New Guinea – most are in Australia).

In 2000 Victorian Government figures showed that the population of Red Kangaroos in Victoria was at around 6,000. That was a sensible number given what had been done to them (which was mostly very nasty). In 2017 amidst claims of exploding populations of Kangaroos, the Victorian Government conducted a primarily aerial survey of species of Kangaroo that they wanted to turn into pet food. This included the Red Kangaroo.

Stop for a moment and let’s recap a bit, in the 10 years between 2009 and 2018 the Victorian Government issued permits to kill 49,141 Red Kangaroos in the State. That is more than eight times their year 2000 population estimate. In 2010 the Victorian Government issued permits to kill a modest 15 Red Kangaroos, in 2017 they issued permits to kill a whopping 15,187 Red Kangaroos in that year.

Back to the 2017 survey, well, they appear to have counted 23 Red Kangaroos (at vast expense), and this was then turned into a population estimate of 13,000 for that year. Having found very few Kangaroos at all in 2017, so desperate were the Victorian Government to turn Kangaroos into pet food, they had another go at a survey, this time they came up with a Red Kangaroo population of 44,000. They won’t tell me how many they counted (I have asked many times).

The numbers become even more puzzling when we include young Red Kangaroos (joeys), who are killed by whacking them over the head with a bit of iron (if they are lucky). Young Kangaroos are not counted in the massacre. So lets say the permits the Victorian Government issued would be responsible for an additional 22,113 Red Kangaroos being massacred over the ten years described.

So all up, from a population estimate of 6,000 Red Kangaroos in the year 2000, permits were issued covering 71,254 Red Kangaroos, including young. Add another, say, 6,000 Red Kangaroos for the permits issued in the years 2000 to 2008 plus young at 2,700. Thus, the estimated permits issued to kill Red Kangaroos in the period since 2000 cover 79,954 animals. This killing, of course, also takes out the next breeding generation, as the Victorian Government requires that all dependent young must be killed by blunt force.

In 2018, we still end up with a Victorian Government population estimate of 44,000. This means there are still plenty more to kill.

Overkill

Since the year 2000, the Victorian Government has issued permits to kill Red Kangaroos that cover an estimated 13.3 times their year 2000 population estimate. Where are all these Red Kangaroos in Victoria coming from?

The answer is they are not coming at all.

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Update: On Saturday, October 12, Victoria’s Minister for the Environment, Lily D’Ambrosio, confirmed that the Red Kangaroo has been removed from the harvest list and is now safe in Victoria from the pet food trade. The animal remains on the harvest species list in all other Australian states and territories where it exists.

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