As a practicing ecologist, any time I provide advice on environmental/flora/fauna management, I have a conflict of interest. I benefit – I am paid – to manage environmental/development projects and flora/fauna/threatened species issues.
This nomination is an exception, written out of the need in the author’s view, for conservation managers to reconsider the status of the large macropods in NSW, and how they are managed. Grigg (2002) wants to stimulate discussion? This is what I have to say.
My obligations as a Certified Environmental Practitioner require (amongst other things) my providing the highest standards in environmental protection in my work, ahead of any sectional or private interest. This nomination has been prepared independently, with nothing but the conservation of national environmental values (Australia’s large macropods) in mind; there are no commercial or other interests in play.
1.2 Alarm Bells
Returning to Bathurst from an invertebrates and conservation conference in Darwin in 2009, I was met with the news that Bathurst Regional Council had just concluded a cull of Eastern Grey Kangaroos on Mount Panorama, in preparation for “The Great Race” (the Bathurst 1000).
Knowing that much of the Bathurst basin is empty of kangaroos, and that the Mount Panorama population is effectively isolated (surrounded by the City, and agriculture), I was astounded that Council would proceed on such a precipitous course, in the absence of any planning or strategic controls directing management of this native species. On questioning DECCW about the cull, the ranger who took my call told me “there are plenty”, and to “wake up to myself”.
I decided to investigate the process through which Council had come to the decision to shoot the ‘roos on the Mount and to resolve for myself the disparate views of how kangaroos are faring, in a developing landscape. This nomination reflects the author’s conclusions with regard to this investigation.
1.3 The Status Quo
Views about kangaroos and their numbers and management are polarised.
On one side there are the “kanga-huggers”, whose approach of emotional confrontation which, whilst often well researched (such as Sutterby 2007), may be deemed to lack the balance to be considered seriously as a scientific treatise, with authors even being in some cases summarily dismissed by critics as “welfarists”. This approach can also put sections of the community offside.
In the middle there is a prevailing perception within the wider community that kangaroos occur in plague proportions; that there are more than there ever were, and there were never any here when I was a kid – now there are.
This view has been formed on the basis that European settlement has improved conditions for the large macropods, with dams providing additional water points and cleared agricultural grasslands providing more feed. It is commonly heard that eating kangaroo is good for the environment, based on an optimistic view that somehow kangaroos will replace farmed sheep and cattle and that the wild harvest is sustainable, and humane.
These theories are widely held, and are frequently regurgitated by an uncritical and uninformed media (for example New Scientist 13th October 2010, or CONSERVATIONIST CALLS FOR KANGAROO CULL in the Western Magazine 14th November 2011).
Also supposedly in the middle are the Kangaroo Management Advisory Panel and OEH-NPWS which have “scientific” units and “advisers” (including such bodies as the University of New England in NSW) who conduct surveys and provide analysis such as population estimates to support advice on “sustainable” harvest quotas. If the Advisory Panel recommends a 15% cull is sustainable, 15% quotas are correspondingly allocated.
OEH-NPWS also issue s.120 and 121 licenses (Application to Harm Protected Fauna), allowing on various pretexts landowners to shoot kangaroos. Given the farming community is largely hostile to OEH-NPWS, it is considered “good community relations” by the NPWS to provide permits to landholders to shoot kangaroos, without quibbling about numbers.
On the other side there is an industry worth millions of dollars annually Australia-wide ($270M according to Kelly 2008), which actively promotes itself to overseas markets, and lobbies government and the NSW Department of Production & Industry.
This industry is armed with a covey of “independent” scientists, who provide theories and peer reviewed papers about kangaroo numbers and ecology, which generally support the harvest industry. These papers are oft cited by the NSW-OEH Kangaroo Management Advisory Panel.
On the same side is the farming community, who hold over 90% of the central and western zones of NSW, and who are often actively and openly hostile to kangaroos in particular, and to the philosophy of conservation generally (this may be slowly changing in some instances).
A section of the community who like to “go shooting” has access via the farming sector to land where shooting is permissible, and where what is shot is not policed. It is reasonable to place this section of the community on the anti-kangaroo conservation side of the discussion.
This is the status quo.
1.4 A Simple Test
This nomination will go into detail of the status and trajectory of kangaroo populations in NSW. It will provide a critical analysis of historic and contemporary papers and data, any evidence based on case studies of varying scope and scale which certainly seem to satisfy criteria to list the large macropods as threatened in NSW (and with extension of similar landscape factors and processes occurring in other states, across Australia).
But there is a simple test – it provides a multivariate analysis of the current state of kangaroos. It must be conducted under the understanding that historic accounts generally describe the kangaroo as “abundant”, “plentiful”, “numerous” (see table below), and accept that the “immense forests which formerly abounded in the wild animals” (Sydney Gazette 13 December 1814) are now largely cleared and given to urban or other development, and agriculture.
1788 NSW Port Jackson “Kangaroos are very numerous here” 1788 Arthur Bowes Smyth “there are great numbers of kangaroos…” 1790 Tench “They’re sociable animals and unite in droves to the number of 50 or 60 together” 1794 Onslow (1973) refers to “John Macarther taking 300 pounds of kangaroo meat a week using one hunter and six greyhounds” at Parramatta 1802 Barrallie “The hills were covered by kangaroos”. 1804 Historical Records of Australia (1922a) “Kangaroos were in abundance” (in Tasmania) 1813 Evans “Killed a kangaroo...there were plenty. Kangaroos can be provided at any time” 1813 Blaxland: 8 mentions of kangaroo in 18 page journal, the party ate kangaroo for much of their crossing of the Blue Mountains 1814 Sydney Gazette “the immense forests which formerly abounded in the wild animals” 1814 Historical Records of Australia (1921) referring to Evans crossing the Blue Mountains “he saw numerous kangaroos” 1814 Cox “Timber thin and kangaroos a plenty” 1815 Anthill “Chased kangaroos” 1815 Macquarie [Bathurst] “On return we saw some Emus and Kangaroos”, “We saw a large Flock of Emus in Princess Charlotte’s Vale, and a great [number?] of Kangaroos, Pigeons, Quails and a few Wild Geese” 1817 Oxley “Dogs killed several kangaroos” 1817 Oxley “A flock of large kangaroos. There were plenty” 1817 Historical Records of Australia (1921) referring to Evans on the Lachlan where he “saw numerous kangaroos” 1818 Oxley “flocks of kangaroos like sheep. I do not exaggerate when I say that some hundreds were seen in the vicinity of this hill.” 1819 Howden “Kangaroos appeared in great numbers” 1820 Oxley “tiring of killing kangaroos he might have hunted emus with equal success” 1820 Sutherland “A great number of kangaroos in South Australia.” 1820 Macquarie “We saw a vast number of the large Forest Kangaroos in this mornings Excursion”; ”We saw and hunted many Flocks of Kangaroos in the course of this days Ride and killed three of them”; “In the course of our Ride we fell in with 3 or 4 small Herds [of kangaroos], some of which we hunted, and the Commissioner enjoyed the sport amazingly” 1821 Onslow (1973) refers to James Macarthur seeing“kangaroos in immense flocks” at Sutton Forest (to the west of Sydney) 1828 Sturt “Therewere very many kangaroos, the intervening brush was full of kangaroos” 1831 Mitchell (frequent reference to kangaroos, including “…numerous pigeons and also kangaroos shewed…”) 1833 Bennett “Kangaroos and emus were numerous” 1833 Cross in WA “numerous herds of kangaroos”; “kangaroos and birds in abundance”; “kangaroos and birds in great abundance”; “heard kangaroos in the night and found numerous traces of them”; “saw many large kangaroos on the plain;, “great numbers of kangaroos”; “plenty of kangaroos;, “numerous impressions of the feet of natives and kangaroos”; “kangaroos… seemed abundant traces in all places;, “plenty of kangaroos here without going out of our tract we saw at least 20”; “the kangaroo must be very numerous in the interior if we may judge from the quantity seen in walking in a straight line” 1836 Light (1984) refers to Capt Phillip Mitchell recording “numerous flocks” at Point Lincoln (SA) 1836 Hamilton “Kangaroos rats, Toolache Wallabies were numerous” 1836 Mitchell (numerous references to kangaroos, including “…the dogs killed three kangaroos…”, “…the dogs killed two kangaroos…”) 1837 Oakden “Startled a dozen kangaroos” 1838 Grey “kangaroos are alone numerous” 1839 Mitchell (numerous references to kangaroos, including “swarms” along the Murray) 1839-1841Robinson (1980) reports Chief Protector Robinsons traverses north and west of Melbourne where he “repeatedly reported sightings and taking of kangaroos” 1840 Gilbert “over 500 kangaroos” on the Gordon River Plains 1840 Hall, Victoria “Game, most plentiful. Kangaroos tail soup in abundance” 1841 Bridle (1969) describesHall (Grampians) “kangaroos abounded in the forests” & “kangaroo soup, in its abundance, ceased to have any attraction for us” 1841 (date estimate based on context of narrative) Bridle (1969) refers to Rose (Grampians) “kangaroos were still plentiful at the foot of the mountains” 1842 Henderson SA “Numbers of kangaroos” 1842 Hawker “We saw a great number of kangaroos” 1847 Leichardt “flocks of kangaroos on the Burdekin”, “estimated by their tracks on the watershed that they were numerous” 1849 Sturt “There was no want of game of the largest kangaroos” 1850s Wheelright (1979) describes HW Wheelright (hunter, naturalist and writer) as having, in combination with another party “shot at least 2000 kangaroos within a short distance to the south-east ofMelbourne” 1870s Schumack “plague proportions” in the ACT region 1882 Lyne “Kangaroos and emus! A plenty!" 1889 Morris (1978) cites Neville-Rolfe “A plain, stripped of all grass by the invading hordes, brown, too, with the figures of four or five hundred of the enemy…” 1897 Saville-Kent “the larger species of kangaroo, where abundant, so seriously tax the resources of the Australian pasture lands as to necessitate that adoption of stringent measures to keep them in check”, resulting in “the complete extirpation of the ‘Boomer’ throughout a large extent of the prairie-like tracts of Australian pastoral land on which it abounded previous to the advent of the settler” 1938 Hawden “During the day we saw numerous kangaroos”, “Kangaroos in great abundance”
Some historic accounts of kangaroos: (compiled from Marjorie Wilson OAM (2004), Auty (2004), Croft (2005) and by Mjadwesch (for this nomination)). Note: the author has not chased down source documents and personally sighted all of these accounts.
To conduct the simple test you need to look out your window and count the kangaroos. It doesn’t matter if you are in the car (you can count dead ones if you want), the office, at home or outside. How many kangaroos can you see?
The author works as an ecologist, often out in the field, often in rural and remote areas, conducting flora and fauna surveys. 99.9% of the time all the author can see is people, houses, roads, fences, paddocks etc. For 99.9% of the population, they can truthfully say the same 100% of the time. A tiny fraction of the human population, the author amongst them, can sometimes look out of the window and see kangaroos.
This snap analysis indicates that it is not kangaroos which are in “plague proportions”, or “more than there ever were” – it is humans. There is a very simple displacement going on - (from English et al 1998 talking of the occupation of the Central West between 1835 and 1845):
Squatters pushed the frontier, and lost no time in securing the grassy plains west of the mountains
Today kangaroos are neither plentiful, nor abundant, nor numerous anywhere there are people. There are fewer kangaroos now than there ever have been, just as there are more people – ratios may well be in direct proportion, maybe with a logarithmic scale along one of the axis. Given the status quo and trends (see below), by the time Australia gets to 35M people (projected for 2050), the author is pretty sure there will not be many kangaroos left at all.
The author has not done an equivalent search of historic literature seeking quotations describing fauna as “poor” or “low in number”. Auty (2004) considered this however, naming Sturt’s accounts as being “the only one of the early explorers… who did not record sightings”. English et al 1998 also provides that Davidson “unlike some surveyors… included little in the way of observational information as to the country and its vegetation”.
However Cunningham (according to Wilson 2004) refers to days where there were“scarcely a trace of either Indian or kangaroos”, and occasionally discusses the absence of kangaroos, and ponders the reason. These intimations suggest that days with few kangaroos, or regions where they seemed scarce, were the exception, rather than the rule.
Auty (2004) goes on to discuss provisioning for historic exploratory missions as relying on being able to be supplemented with meat from wild game, suggesting again that meat was readily available, even if some parties got a bit hungry (such as on Leichhardt’s trek from Moreton Bay to Port Essington in 1844).
1.5 Spot the Kangaroo
An exercise to demonstrate this at a landscape scale is “spot the kangaroo” when the news is on in the evening. The news provides completely random representative footage across the range of environments in the news every day. Try to spot the kangaroos for a few weeks (or months, or years), and you will get an impression of their distribution and abundance.
“Flying” across the digital landscape on Google Earth is also effective at illustrating the distribution of kangaroos. Go down to about 1000m above ground level on Google Earth, start anywhere, and give it a slow flick. Look for kangaroos' presence characterised by extensive tracts of intact forests and woodlands; stop sometimes and look at the photos that people have posted.
1.6 This Nomination
It is this nomination’s intention to examine the disparate theories which have directed kangaroo management to date, to provide a reasoned account of how kangaroos are faring under current conditions, and to discuss estimates of current population numbers and trends.
There is an enormous amount of literature pertaining to kangaroos and to their status and management in NSW (and Australia). It is not within the scope of this nomination to cover every aspect of kangaroo biology and behaviour, or to review every paper ever written; nor does it claim to be the final word on the status of kangaroos in NSW at the present date. The author’s experience is with NSW and conditions in NSW; extension in conclusion to other States and Territories is generalised, based on the author’s reading and understanding of the literature, and the situation outside NSW.
This nomination provides the NSW Scientific Committee with a range of possible scenarios. The Scientific Committee will need to satisfy themselves through their own and further research about the ecology and status of the large macropods (there are hundreds if not thousands of additional papers cited in reports to which this nomination makes reference). Obviously the NSW SC needs to apply its own critical analysis to the varied and polarised views on how kangaroos are faring, before listing, or not listing, the large macropods as threatened in NSW.
The author fitted time to prepare this nomination into an already heavily and even over-committed work schedule, and many additional research papers which will be applicable to this issue have not been sought. A PhD’s 3 years would have been a more appropriate time frame over which to prepare a case for listing the large macropods as threatened, controversial as the issue is – it is bigger than one independent researcher tapping away in his “spare” time in Bathurst.
However the worst case scenario is an extreme one, and it is the author’s opinion that this matter needs urgent attention, even though submitting this nomination will undoubtedly bring criticism from the rusted on and “respected” researchers in this field. Nonetheless the author humbly submits same for the NSW Scientific Committee's consideration.
1.7 It's Not Range Reduction ...
The Simple Test above provides a very basic methodology for illustrating a reduction in the numbers of large macropods. Much of the coastal strip and all major settlements exclude kangaroos for many surrounding kilometres; there is an area around rural residential dwellings into which kangaroos fear to enter; and additionally traffic along transport corridors takes a serious toll on native fauna.
Auty (2004) cites HW Wheelright from the 1850’s as “knowing of no kangaroo-ground within 30 miles west of Melbourne”, and Darwin discussed their “disappearance” from around the settlements in the 1830’s. In NSW, while major developed areas (such as Sydney, Wollongong,
Figure 1. Eastern Greys continue to occur in coastal forests (South West Rocks above)
Newcastle, etc) exclude kangaroos from coastal regions , there is not necessarily a net reduction in the range of the species subject to this nomination, however.
Eastern Grey Kangaroos for example continue to occur from South West Rocks on the east coast (Figure 1) to far-western NSW, and from the Victorian border to Queensland. Similarly pockets of the other large macropods probably persist in NSW across the complete set of landscapes over which they formerly bounded.
Figures 2-5 below indicate ranges of the four species subject to this nomination, across NSW (DECCW 2010)
Figure 2. Western Grey Kangaroo records for NSW (DECCW Wildlife Atlas 24/4/2010)
Figure 3. Eastern Grey Kangaroo Records for NSW (DECCW Wildlife Atlas 24/1/2010)
Figure 4. Common Wallaroo Records for NSW (DECCW Wildlife Atlas 24/1/2010)
Figure 5. Red Kangaroo Records for NSW (DECC Wildlife Atlas 24/1/2010)
1.8 It's Population Fragmentation
The pattern of development in NSW has resulted in not so much a macropod range reduction as a fragmentation of the meta-population. The figures above clearly show large expanses where one or other (or all) of the species are apparently absent, or where they may be infrequently observed at a landscape scale (though voids can also mean simply that no-one has bothered recording sightings in that location).
Fertile valleys and plains have generally been given over to agriculture and production. These are often now devoid of cover, and are dissected by roads and fences. Kangaroos which venture onto the plains – if they can negotiate the fences and avoid the cars, are in imminent risk of being shot – many farmers travel around their properties with a gun to hand, and most of NSW is included in commercial harvest zones.
Figure 6 illustrates this at a local scale.
Figure 6. Timbered ranges occur throughout much of the sheep-wheat belt of NSW; these remain critical habitat for the macropod fauna.
Island exclusions also form within otherwise functional populations. Appendix 1 for example shows the Bathurst Basin, which is now almost devoid of kangaroos (an “island exclusion”), in a region (the Central Tablelands) which still has persistent numbers (though with recent inclusion in the kangaroo harvest zones, and an allocation of some 80,000 animals in 2010 and 2011, this may not be the case for much longer).
From English et al 1998 (discussing “selection” and “the rush to occupy land” in the interior in 1890):
In an agricultural point of view the neighbourhood of Alectown will eventually take a high position as a productive district. The adjacent parishes of Kadina and Burrill, being with the resumed area of the Balderadgera holding, are almost wholly absorbed up to the foot of Herveys Range by controlled purchasers – few of them being holders of less than 2000 acres – men with highly improved areas, comfortable homesteads, and with the well-to-do appearance of the farmer-cum-grazier class (pp 49)
“Highly improved” in an agricultural sense means “extensively cleared”.
Occupation of the interior was “widespread and rapid” and, in 1871 due to the widespread destruction of trees throughout the colony reserves were created to control and preserve “timber resources”. Within even these areas timber was cut – they thought sustainably at the time.
However with figures like 85,150 cubic feet of sleepers being cut p/a from the Hervey (Goobang) Range alone in the 1940s – with up to 11 sleepers per butt, and even 100 sleepers per tree, it was not long before all the good timber was gone. They were again reworking the Hervey Range (taking the previously left smaller trees) in 1986, still cutting up to 321 m³ p/a, but by 1991 it was estimated that only three years of sleeper cutting remained. In 1995 the now “worthless” land (all the big timber had been removed) was gazetted as a national park.
The declaration of Goobang National Park effectively conserved the largest remnant of forest and woodland remaining in the central west of the state. Certainly the rich texture of the densely vegetated ranges stands in stark contrast to the denuded plains that surround them. (pp 92)
Some local residents were outraged when they learnt that National Parks & Wildlife Service was to be the custodian of the land. (pp 93)
Hundreds of thousands of hectares have likewise been cleared through the sheep-wheat belt of NSW. From Howling 1997:
The clearing of native vegetation in NSW since European settlement began in 1788 has resulted in the loss of more than 60% of the state’s original forests and woodlands (NSW Tree Forum 1993). While significant levels of clearing and modification have occurred along the eastern seaboards and adjacent ranges the degree of change has been most intense throughout the temperate and semi-arid wheat-sheep belt which comprises the greater part of the Central West catchment.
In 2003 the DLWC provided that in NSW, between 116,000ha and 216,000ha were being cleared per annum, and between 150,000ha and 560,000ha had been cleared illegally between 1997 (when Howling described 60% of the state’s vegetation as gone) and 2002 (reported by Lewis in the SMH). How much of the State’s native vegetation has been cleared today, exactly?
In the Central West some communities such as Box-Gum Woodland (an ecological community listed on State and Commonwealth threatened species schedules as ENDANGERED) have been cleared by as much or more than 95% (CWCMA .xls file). We have hundreds of mining proposals across the state, such as coal mining at Boggabri (estimated 5,067ha of Leard State Forest to be cleared, according to the NPA 2011, including 1,384ha before the “approvals” authorities at present), and the Pillaga CSG proposal (2,400ha of the Pillaga State Forest on the cards to be cleared according to the Greens’ Cate Faehrman, in 2011).
“Offsetting” has been enshrined in the legislation as an “appropriate” mitigation measure, however this invariably results in net loss, so the rate of vegetation clearing remains unabated in the face of the resources / energy industry. Many consultants have few scruples about being at the forefront of the mining / approvals process, and routinely do “biobanking” assessments to facilitate clearing of forests, including threatened species habitats, for the biggest mining proposals, while “banking” degraded agricultural land (Goldney pers comm 2011).
Often all that remains through the sheep / wheat belt of NSW are small stands of trees: in 2000 the Little River Landcare Group had a Catchment Management Plan prepared (Donaldson Planning & Management Services 2000) which provides a fairly typical description of the state of natural vegetation in central western NSW, with “…occasional rows of trees along fence lines and boundaries, and isolated paddock trees”. In 2011 the Central West CMA orchestrated the passage through the NSW legislature of an instrument to facilitate the clearing of “invasive native scrub” to further pacify the farming community, who hate “woody weeds” (which is often in actual fact regrowth / regeneration – exceptions include Lantana, Blackberry etc).
There are any number of smaller scale studies describing situations locally, many are cited in the NSW Scientific Committee’s listing Clearing of native vegetation as a KEY THREATENING PROCESS in NSW (2001). Local studies provide glimpses of the state of the environment widely encountered through settled and farming areas in western NSW, for example (NPWS 2002 describing Boorowa Shire):
85% of the Shire’s native vegetation has been cleared…
Appendix 2 shows maps from a Boorowa Shire document. It illustrates the situation through much of central and western NSW in an easy to understand format.
Question: How does clearing of native vegetation and fragmentation of habitat affect the large macropods? Kangaroos are not identified in the 2001 KTP as “affected” or “at risk” from these processes.
Answer: Tanner & Hocking (2001) describes some characteristic behaviour of the EGK in Tasmania; they apparently travel no more than 500m from the edge of remnant woodland / shelter into the adjacent farmlands to feed. Dror Ben Ami (2009) cites Arnold et al (1989) as having shown that crops 400m from the forest edge are “not affected at all by kangaroos”. Coulson (1982) studied EGK roadkill in Victoria, with findings showing a very strong relationship between kangaroo occurrence (indicated by dead animals) and proximity of woodland or forest cover (schematic reproduced below).
Figure 7. Coulson (1982) illustrates the relationship between kangaroo occurrence (on the basis of roadkill) and forest/woodland cover
It looks like once critical limits in clearing are exceeded, populations may become effectively isolated, with little or no ongoing and meaningful genetic exchange between nearby populations. Obviously at this point a catastrophic event (such as bushfire) could result in extinction of a local population; continual and incremental or long term attrition could also depress populations, so that they become locally extinct in the medium to longer term.