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Australia has excessive protections for its kangaroos

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Monday, 21 September 2015


A couple of years ago on the TV show QI, the panel was asked by host, Stephen Fry, "Which Australian animal is the most dangerous?" Based on the decade to 2010 (when 254 deaths were identified as animal related) the biggest individual culprits turned out to be domesticated animals (horses, cattle and dogs) accounting for 127 deaths. Amongst wild animals, the biggest killers were not what you might think (snakes, crocodiles, or sharks). The biggest killer in Australia among wild animals was in fact the kangaroo (due to road accidents), accounting for 18 deaths, as well as untold injuries and tens of millions of dollars in damage to vehicles.

Australians generally are reluctant to admit that, as well as being their iconic native animal, the cute-looking kangaroo (through sheer force of numbers) is also a major pest. This is because of its contribution to road accidents, and damage to fences, crops and pastures. About 70 per cent of Australians live in capital cities along the coast and simply don't see the damage kangaroos cause (mostly in inland rural areas) or the extent of their numbers, which is only evident at night.

In some studies of road accidents in rural and remote areas, impacts with kangaroos accountedfor 5.5% of serious on-road casualties. National insurance claims data further show that kangaroos are involved in almost three quarters of all animal-related crashes. The cost of collisions with medium to large mammals (most of them kangaroos) reaches tens of millions of dollars each year. Safety accessories, such as roo-bars (up to $2000 each to buy) add further outlays, since, in addition to their own cost, they decrease fuel efficiency and are an added danger to pedestrians.

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AAMI data show there were 906 claims related to animal collisions in the ACT in 2013, up 84 per cent from 2009-10. Queanbeyan and surrounds – including parts of the ACT – is the nation's roo-crash capital, and kangaroos have historically made up about 90 per cent of the insurer's ACT animal-collision claims.

Besides causing road accidents, kangaroos are also without a doubt the greatest single cause of unwanted grazing pressure on Australian crops and pastures, and probably exceed bushfire as the biggest single cause of damage to agricultural fencing. There are regular incidents of crops being decimated by hordes of kangaroos (especially around the start or end of a drought), while in many areas (especially adjoining timber or national parks) kangaroos account for up to a third of grazing pressure on agricultural pastures. In the ACT, excessive kangaroo numbers are said to threaten a number of other native species, and the Territory's (Labor/Greens) Government has authorised regular culling.

The current kangaroo population estimatefor the commercially harvested kangaroo species (only 4 of the 48 species) puts their numbers at 50 - 60 million (the highest ever recorded). This means there are more than twice as many kangaroos in Australia as there are cattle, and more than one kangaroo for every two sheep. When you bear in mind that the wool and sheep-meat industries have an annual farm-gate value of about $4.5 billion dollars, and the beef industry is worth an estimated $7 billion, the annual opportunity cost of running 50 million plus kangaroos must run into billions of dollars.

 

The issue is that, without intervention or substantial predation, both domesticated and wild animals expand in numbers during good times until the carrying capacity of the land is reached. When the inevitable drought occurs, the cattle and sheep are supplementary fed or sent to market, while large numbers of wild animals just starve. While I am not suggesting the wholesale slaughter of kangaroos, it is far more humane to limit the population of major kangaroo species on an ongoing basis (e.g. through harvesting/shooting) than to adopt "do nothing" policies, that merely facilitate starvation and large-scale road-kill during regular droughts.

Current restrictions on managing native wildlife in Australia are unrealistically restrictive. Just look at our limitations on hunting or controlling native wildlife compared with overseas.

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In NSW, for example, ALL native birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals (except the dingo) are protected, irrespective of whether they are abundant or not. It is possible for landholders to get a permit to control some species (this is mainly limited to kangaroos, cockatoos, and crows) where they are either agricultural or pastoral pests. With kangaroos, permits are generally granted to farmers only for relatively small numbers at a time so that most primary producers cannot be bothered with the bureaucracy involved. There is also a commercial kangaroo harvest (currently in jeopardy because of weak export demand), which occurs overwhelmingly in the arid grazing rangelands.

Few countries in the world have the blanket hunting ban protecting native animals (other than the exceptions above) that Australia has. What makes this ban ridiculous is that it covers every species no matter how common.

In the UK by contrast, it is legal to hunt many small animals, such as hares, rabbits and foxes (native to the UK). You also don't need a licence to hunt deer in open season, or to hunt game birds like pheasant, grouse or woodcock.

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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