myths & legends
There are many popularly held beliefs about kangaroos and how well they are doing, which have often been debunked by credible sources. Other beliefs don’t need science to be dismissed as mythical – general principles in ecology, and even the untrained with reason and observation alone can defy the logic of some theories, such as the “more kangaroos than there ever were” kind. To review a few of the more widely held beliefs…
MYTH 1. KANGAROO POPULATIONS "EXPLODE"
This is supported by figures from “counts” conducted by agencies such as the OEH 2010 2011 Quota Report, where we can see populations double, and in various “management” (harvest) zones even triple or quadruple within a one year period (discussed previously in this nomination). “Sexual maturity” is cited optimistically as being reached at 15-20 months in the Red Kangaroo (in captivity – up to 12 months longer in the wild), and 18 months in Western Grey Kangaroos (Caughley et al 1987); Pople (1999) “calculates” that reproduction rates can be as high as 0.67 in the Red Kangaroo, and cites studies for this species where reproductive rates can reach 0.92.
Less optimistic studies have found that while sexual maturity may come “early” (at over 2 years this still does not compare favourably with domesticated stock animals), successful rearing of pouch young in the Eastern Grey Kangaroo (for example), does not usually occur in the wild until does reach 3-3.5 years of age (Dawson 1995).
Arnold (1991) gives juvenile survivorship to 1 year in the wild (Western Grey Kangaroo) as being as low as 27% (ie: 73% die in their first year out of the pouch). Banks et al 2000 provides that up to 50% of young can be taken by foxes in their emergent stage. Survivorship of juvenile Red Kangaroos in wild populations is “very low” (Bilton & Croft 2004), pouch young approach 100% mortality during poor conditions (“…almost total mortality” according to Caughley et al 1987). These sort of mortality rates will obviously have a big impact on recruitment to a population.
After shooting roughly half of a population, Arnold (1991) provided figures suggesting a return to “equilibrium” for the studied population over a period of 6 years, indicating a population growth rate of only 9-11% p/a.
Researchers can throw around theoretical growth rates of 0.67 and 0.92; the department can provide data indicating 300% increases in populations (with a little help via inflated “correction factors”), but simply put, a species capable of recovering at such a low rate (10-14% or thereabouts) is biologically incapable of “exploding”. While onset of the reproductive cycle can be triggered by rain (Shepherd 1987 describes conception as occurring 2 weeks or so after rain in 65% of pregnancies in the Red Kangaroo), and while kangaroos may get a bit of lead time by having a blastocyst in stasis, it takes 300-360 or so days to raise a joey; this fact is immutable.
Interestingly the OEH-NPWS have described the breeding ecology of another species (Flying Foxes of NSW 2010):
It takes three years for a female flying-fox to become sexually mature, after which she will give birth to only one pup per year. Pups are dependent for at least 6 months. This slow reproductive rate means flying foxes are unable to increase their population numbers quickly.
Kangaroos have their first young at around 3 years; they can raise one joey per year; joeys are dependant for 18 months; joeys have high rates of mortality. How can the OEH suggest that populations can “explode”? How can “researchers” seriously provide graphs which double or triple populations, and claim that their monitoring in any sense “tracks” populations?
If there are 100 kangaroos one year, and a population has a M:F ratio of 1:1, of the 50 or so does that could conceivably conceive, only 25% or so of these are likely to successfully raise their young to independence, and there may be 110 or 115 the next year, period.
It is biologically impossible for kangaroo populations to “explode”.
MYTH 2. AGRICULTURE HAS IMPROVED CONDITIONS FOR KANGAROOS
Tree clearing, pasture improvement, provision of widespread water and removal of predators including human hunters was followed by a surge in kangaroo densities in the 1870’s…
What sort of kangaroo surveys were being conducted in the 1870s? How can a scientist (Jarman is a “professor”, no less) make claims of “surging” numbers in the absence of anything like data? It is an interesting point that historic population “surge” claims (like Jarman’s) are stated as fact, but if someone like Dr Auty suggests that early explorers descriptions of “abundant” and “a great many” kangaroos may mean that numbers have actually crashed since European settlement, these early explorer accounts are not valid, “numbers can’t be quantified” and “accounts are exaggerated”, and their observations can’t be used to inform discussion on population trends between 1788 and the present day.
The “things are better” theories are included in point form in Olsen & Low (2006) in their advice to the Kangaroo Management (Harvest) Advisory Panel - this advice seems to have been the primary source document from which the reasoning for the currently operative Commercial Kangaroo Harvest Management Plan (DECCW 2007) was derived.
These notions are disseminated widely by an unquestioning media, and represent the prevailing view amongst the general public, and even amongst ecologists ( Prof/Dr [ecologist] pers comm 2009) wildlife managers (for example NPWS Ranger - Bathurst pers comm 2010) and conservationists (Knop 2011).
To address the “humans have made things better” theories point by point:
Is addressed above in detail in the section dealing with Threats.
Clearing vegetation is not good for kangaroos.
Is addressed above in detail in the section dealing with Threats.
From Gammage (2011), citing Cunningham who wrote during the 1827 drought, of being:
…surprised to observe how wonderfully the native grasses had resisted the dry weather on the upper banks of this dry watercourse [the Macintyre River]. They appeared fresh and nutritive, affording abundance of provision to the many kangaroos that were bounding around us.
I refer back to the picture on page 115 of this nomination; encourage consideration of how often most Australians see "many kangaroos" bounding around them, and ask the question of how kangaroos can possibly be doing better since the advent of non-Aboriginal farming and hard-hooved livestock.
Improving pasture is not good for kangaroos.
PROVISION OF WIDESPREAD WATER
This would be a nice sounding theory, if it wasn’t complete baloney.
Simply put, dams stop water flowing to creeks. Before there were dams everywhere, water flowed to creeks, and kangaroos would have watered from long standing/peri-permanent rocky water holes and rivers, which now often stand dry or are otherwise depleted (see Threats above).
The NSW Fisheries Scientific Committee have listed Installation and Operation of In-Stream Structures which Modify Flow as a KEY THREATENING PROCESS in NSW (2001); the NSW Scientific Committee have listed Alteration to the Natural Flow Regimes of Rivers, Streams, Floodplains & Wetlands as a KEY THREATENING PROCESS in NSW (2002).
So while agricultural land may have a new propensity of water points, these and other agricultural management practices are actually depriving natural areas of water. In addition dams, which undeniably have proliferated, are often in otherwise modified (largely cleared) areas, rather than close to preferred kangaroo habitats (ie: areas with remnant timber, which may be used by kangaroos as shelter).
Tanner & Hocking (2001) found that kangaroos rarely venture more than 500m from cover; Viggers 2005 suggested on average kangaroos moved only 135m into farms, however going to water may be one situation where extreme limits would be reached. But what has happened to the natural chains of ponds and verdant-fringed deep pools of Mitchell’s day (1831-1839)?
Extraction of groundwater (via bores) has depressed artesian and groundwater pressures, and up to 80% of mound springs mapped and described in 1911-1912 had ceased to flow in 1999-2000 (Fairfax and Fensham 2003) - a typical description from 1912 “…the discharge does not vary with the seasons…”. Refer also to mound spring symposiums, and listing of the Artesian springs ecological community as endangered (NSW Scientific Committee 2001). The newest threats are longwall mining and CSG, which are set to explode across central NSW, with these industries not even acknowledging implications for water security.
Likewise irrigation has removed much of the water from the inland river systems; the previously dire situation in the Murray-Darling basin is a clear illustration of mans’ mismanagement of ecosystems, to the point of collapse. People are now scrabbling to come up with solutions, and are throwing substantial funding at it.
Dams and “ground tanks’ (excavated hollows) in western NSW were often put in where water had previously existed (Mjadwesch 2006). Fairfax and Fensham 2003 described many of the artesian springs in their study as “excavated”. Farmers could see that these locations had free water, and dug them into dams or “ground tanks” in an attempt to make them “better” (deeper) or longer (the typical “bore drain”). Unfortunately these sort of modifications may in some instances have reduced the capacity of the pre-existing structure which brought water to the surface. Excavated dams and ground tanks were often bone-dry to great depth in Ledknapper Nature Reserve in 2006 & 2009 (pers obs).
Research such as that done by UNSW (Montague-Drake 2004, for example, and Croft et al 2007), illustrates that while kangaroos may come to water for a drink, their grazing patterns are all about the availability of good forage (which is often still absent from around dams 20 years after removal of sheep, in the case of National Parks which have changed the land use of former farming properties from “production” to “conservation”), and good shelter (treed areas, which are often absent from agricultural environments).
In addition farmers often fence dams (to trap goats or pen sheep); these fences are often strung with the carcasses or bones of kangaroos which have also come to the water, and their remains often occur in abundance. Farmers also often include dams in their “patrols”, dams provide a ready point at which farmers (and roo-shooters) can target kangaroos with their eradication (shooting) programs. McLeod 2003 talks of how “artificial water point closures can increase the effectiveness of the harvest”, simply by concentrating kangaroos around fewer water points.
The Centre for Arid Zone Research and CSIRO have given the matter some thought, with varying degrees of insight (encapsulated in 1998 by James):
Native wild animal species that rely on drinking water, or water as a habitat for part of their life cycle, are able to persist in areas that were previously not habitable most of the time, resulting in larger and more widespread populations of these species than would otherwise be possible
This may have been the case, were it not for the fact that dams and other artificial watering points were accompanied by clearing, fencing, shooting, habitat degradation and competition (from millions of stock animals being introduced to the interior, with impacts particularly severe around watering points), and loss of the formerly occurring natural watering points (mound springs, swampy meadows, deep rocky pools in otherwise ephemeral water courses etc - see above).
The density of artificial sources of water across the arid and semi-arid rangelands of Australia is such that moderate to heavy grazing is maintained over large areas
James citing Landberg & Gillieson 1996
This is true, but “moderate to heavy grazing” is in reference to grazing by stock. Dams provide water for stock – kangaroos are able to travel greater distances to water, and their distribution is more a factor of available shelter (forest / trees) and suitable grazing opportunities, than water.
Between 2007 and 2009 up to 31.7M sheep and 5.7M cattle were grazing in the pastures of NSW (plus goats, horses, rabbits, deer, etc). This represents a grazing equivalent to c. 500M kangaroos (using Griggs 2002 (kangaroo) DSE 0.2), nearly 50 times more than the estimated number of kangaroos at the present date.
It is very interesting that of James’ work it is the statements about “increased ranges” and “increased population” that people quote, rather than his accounts of:
James (1998) on material referenced from overseas states:
There appears to be a consistent message of warning coming from these different authors in different regions: widespread provision of artificial water in previously dry landscapes is potentially threatening to many species through many of the mechanisms identified in this paper
What James (1998) fails to provide is an account of what the situation was with availability of water prior to agricultural development, or consideration of how far kangaroos are able to travel to water, and how little they need.
Water already existed in Australia before white man came along!
Bill Gammage (2011) sums it up pretty well: Dams and irrigation often replace what was there anyway… Gammage is very useful in many ways for an understanding of the land, its function and productivity, and the abundance of wildlife, including kangaroos, prior to the advent of white man in Australia.
Oxley (1817) …dreadful marshes [near Condobolin]
Oxley (1818) …held up by marshes [near Coonamble – cited in Greaves 1976]
The “harsh” environment of the Hervey Range in Goobang National Park (near Forbes in central western NSW) provides an indication of how water occurred in natural areas prior to European colonisation (from English et al 1998):
A field trip in the company of Rex Rodda was arranged for Tuesday 17th June (1997). Rex Rodda located many springs within the Park…(pp 19)
From a distant swampy plain Oxley glimpsed the range the Wiradjuri knew as Goobang (pp 28)
The Lachlan River looses itself over a large extent of morasses (pp 28)
Travelling in advance of his party Mitchell continued his course westward through “verdant vales” and “abundant pools of water” (pp 29)
Returning to the direction of their camp Mitchell observed “some places unusually green”. Mitchell was describing the vibrant rim of vegetation that surrounded the natural springs he had happened upon. (pp 30)
[*camp site*] When the party reached the [Goobang] creek, just above the point where they had initially crossed it, it was comprised of deep clear ponds and well grassed. Mitchell commented that the country of the Lachlan, or Goobang side, appeared to be of better quality with the grasses being abundant and the water courses more retentive (pp 32)
The Forbes region was ravaged by drought in 2009. Given the modifications to drainage and wetland ecosystems in establishing agriculture through the central west, the degradation of the environment (and loss of water) from these plains and river floodplains was more likely a consequence of poor land management practices over the last 150 years (the Forbes region experienced a massive influx of people in the 1860’s during the “gold rush” years) in combination with drought, rather than drought alone.
Macquarie (1815) describes the Bathurst region as “one of the finest landscapes”, “extremely well watered”, “fine Grass growing”, “the most beautiful rich tract of land” etc (many more superlatives used describing the abundance of the landscape). However when crossing the Macquarie River he noted “there being very little water in the River at present owing to the long continuous Droughts” [author’s underlining].
From Macquarie (1815):
8th May Both these Valleys are remarkably well watered by large Ponds at regular distances contiguous to each other, which are even full of Water at this extraordinary dry season
Given the effusive descriptions of the landscape in 1815 during drought, ecosystems seem to have been well buffered and resilient to drought impacts historically, unlike now, where we often see dry, de-vegetated, degraded and eroding landscapes.
Fortunately Goobang National Park was gazetted in 1995, and it remains a haven for wildlife, with access to natural water. Parts of it were initially retained by the Crown on the basis that (according to English et al 1998, citing a surveyors report from 1884):
…there was a small spring near the Gap which I did not observe and which has never failed to give a limited supply of water in dry season. I would recommend that the area within the Reserve be withdrawn from sale for camping purposes only in the locality (pp 50)
…and from an interview with a local Wiradjuri man, who remembered:
…we used to camp near Clagger Springs because that’s where the pigs used to come for water, and all we had to do was wait (pp 74)
Macquarie again (1820) on his way to Goulburn:
17th Oct …on the edge of a rich Extensive meadow, with a chain of fine Fresh Water Ponds in front of our Tents, and excellent forage for our cattle
19th Oct …several very fine extensive Meadows…large rich Tracts of Forest Land fit for both Cultivation and Pasturage, with plenty of good Water in Lagoons, Ponds and Springs
20th Oct …a very rich beautiful Country, well watered and wooded
22nd Oct: A hard days travel crossing stony ridges, through brush and forest, with bogs and swamps, then…The Country here opens again, into very extensive Plains or Downs… a very rich landscape…a noble extensive rich meadow near a fine large Pond of Fresh Water; the Cattle being up to their bellies in as fine long sweet Grass as I ever saw anywhere
23rd Oct …a most beautiful rich Tract of Country [Goulburn Plains] …not less than Fifty Thousand acres of useful good Land, fit for both purposes of Cultivation and grazing, with a plentiful supply of Fresh Water Ponds, and hardly a Tree to be seen in this whole extent of Plain, but with plenty of good Timber on the Hills and Ridges which gird these Plains like a Belt
28th Oct …a very great extent of Flat Land, composed of Open Forest, Plains and Meadows… the soil generally good, fine herbage, and full of fine large Ponds & Lagoons of Fresh Water
2nd Nov …We passed through some very fine Forest of about Ten miles long, containing rich good Land well adapted for Tillage or grazing, and abounding in excellent Timber, sufficiently well watered by Ponds
The figure below illustrates a random section of the landscape in western NSW. It maps “swamps”, as well as the locations of tanks and dams, and farm houses. Keep in mind that kangaroos evolved and thrived in this landscape prior to the coming of white man. Kangaroos were able to travel as far as they needed to, to water; Red kangaroos can go with as little as 12 drinks per annum (Montague-Drake & Croft 2004); Wallaroos can go indefinitely without water if they have access to good shelter (caves) according to Olsen & Low (2006). Dams are positioned across the landscape according to requirements to water stock, kangaroos were already well adapted to Australian conditions before white man came along and “improved” everything.
Without visiting the location shown in Figure 22, let’s describe what we might imagine it looks like today.
The “swamps” will be large dry depressions, fringed by the dead dry stems of cane grass and lignum. Tanks may be attached to troughs; these and the dams will be situated in completely bare-earthed (mechanically eroded) peizospheres – vegetation is likely to be completely absent for 100m or more; species palatable to kangaroos may be absent for hundreds of meters; trees (most likely Black Box E. largiflorens) may fringe the “swamps”, however trees otherwise are likely to be cleared for miles in every direction. There will be stock, or signs of stock, or cropping, everywhere.
There may be little or no sign of kangaroos. We can fly there using Google Earth.
The proliferation of water points has not made things better for kangaroos.
REMOVAL OF PREDATORS, INCLUDING HUMAN HUNTERS
The idea that kangaroo populations have increased in the absence of dingos and aboriginal hunters is a particularly absurd idea.
With regard to dingos Auty 2004 is unambiguous after searches of the historic literature; while acknowledging that dingos would have been likely to take immature, weak or injured kangaroos, he states:
I have sighted no observations of the hunting of kangaroos by C. l. dingo. On the other hand the failure of the Aborigines to utilise C. l. dingo to hunt kangaroos, while quickly availing themselves of the demonstrated ability of the Europeans hounds to successfully pull down kangaroos, suggests that Aborigines had little regard for C. l. dingos ability as a kangaroo hunter.
The author is not so sure. Dingos are certainly known to take old animals, and the sick or weak, and the very young (Banks et al 2000 cites numerous examples). The author has been told of 3 dogs (dingos?) taking down a large male Eastern Grey Kangaroo near Grafton, and 2 dogs did enough damage to kill a large mature Eastern Grey buck at the CSU-Bathurst campus in October 2011, even with veterinary treatment of puncture wounds.
By comparison and with regard to white hunters, from the earliest days (Auty 2004 again):
By 1794 John Macarthur was taking 300 pounds of kangaroo meat a week using one hunter and six grey hounds at Parramatta
Nomination to List the Eastern Grey Kangaroo as an Endangered Population in the Sydney Basin Bioregion (or in defined local government areas)
All of the above presents a strong case that kangaroos are on the edge of extinction in the Sydney Basin Bioregion; if not across the entire basin, then certainly in many of the local government areas within it. Intact habitats are generally sandstone / escarpment ranges, which are not optimal habitat for the species – all of the “best” land (including Parramatta) was the first land taken for farming, and subsequently for development.
There can be no doubt that one man with six dogs will not collect even a single pound of kangaroo meat within a great many kilometres of the beach-head for the European invasion in Australia (Sydney Cove).
Given the slaughter of joeys and “accidental” deaths during sterilisation of kangaroos in situations such as the ADI site (St Marys) in 2006 to facilitate urban residential sprawl, remaining populations of Eastern Grey Kangaroos in the Sydney region will need intensive programs to ensure their survival, in the face of ongoing habitat destruction and fragmentation, and enclosure and consequent genetic isolation.
(citing from Plomley 1991):
The natives had no dogs for hunting… but when they succeeded in stealing dogs… or otherwise obtained them, the chase became neither so laborious nor so uncertain. They displayed great natural capacity in the training of their dogs, and they treated them more like children than brutes. They were taught not to bark… in pursuit of game
(citing from Darwin 1889):
the Aborigines were always anxious to borrow the dogs from the farm houses to hunt kangaroos, the kangaroo… has become scarce… the English Greyhound has been highly destructive
(Robinson 1980, cited in Auty 2004):
Almost every European had a pack of hounds… Kangaroo dogs are at all the stations… there is not a station home or out station but the men and the master have dogs to hunt kangaroos
Another thing brought by white man was guns, which are much more effective at bringing down kangaroos than spears or nets. Auty 2004 again (citing from Historical Records of Victoria 1983):
Protector Thomas of the Victorian Aborigines Protectorate in 1839 was “much struck” by the care with which the Aborigines at Mornington in Victoria cared for their guns… their camp looked like a butchers shop
While Aborigines would have been very effective hunters without guns, (from English et al 1998)…
Earlier the same day Mitchell watched in awe as one of the Aboriginal men adroitly speared a kangaroo to share with the party (pp 31)
…the “butchers shop” look described by Protector Thomas would have been difficult to achieve without guns (and dogs), given accounts of the hunting methods formerly employed (stalking, ambush, traps, stockades, hides and beaters and fire in communal hunts). Mitchell certainly never described Aboriginal villages as being strewn with animal carcasses or body parts; huts were uniformly clean and well kept.
Indeed as the interior was “settled” (from English et al 1998):
Squatters quickly monopolised water for stock and destroyed habitats through widespread clearing. Cattle and sheep provided an obvious and convenient source of food for Aborigines who found it increasingly difficult to procure traditional meat foods (pp 44)
This suggests that in fact settlement and aggressive exclusion of native animals around settled areas reduced even the capacity of Aborigines to hunt kangaroos to sustain themselves (without changing methods to include dogs and guns). So instead of “kangaroos increasing in the absence of Aboriginal hunting”, the absence of kangaroos resulted in a decrease in Aborigines hunting them. Indeed, once Aborigines had started to be assimilated into station life (from English et al 1998):
[Aborigines] were employed in a range of jobs, including shearing, roo-shooting and boundary riding (pp 50)
Once farming was well established in the colonies, kangaroos were hunted by white people with dogs (derived from the greyhound and “a more powerful breed such as the mastiff”) more for recreational than culinary reasons. From Oxley (1820):
I think that the most fastidious sportsmen would have derived ample amusement during our days journey. He might have seen the truest coursing from the commencement of the chase to the death of his game without moving, and tiring of killing kangaroos he might have hunted emus with equal success
Man & Dog & Gun
White Man’s early exploration of the continent was done gun-in-hand, dog-at-side. Accounts cited above have included Blaxland, Mitchell and Oxley; Macquarie’s account of his trip to Bathurst (1815) paints a picture of their party setting their dogs on animals and blasting away at everything that moved, even Macquarie drawing and firing his pistol on the unsuspecting wildlife.
We hunted two Native Dogs, and some Emus in Macquarie Plains
I forgot to mention in my Notes of yesterday that a very fine large Black Swan, and also a very large Water-Mole (or Duck-Bill) had been shot on the Macquarie River
On return we saw some Emus and Kangaroos; some of the Party Hunted the latter, and the dogs came up with and caught one
I fired at the Black Swan with my pistol but missed it
Joseph Big and my Coachman killed and brought into Camp a very fine large Emu
Having taken my gun with me on the Water I had an opportunity of shooting at and killing a large Black Snake on the Left Bank of the River. I also fired at a large Hawk, but missed it
White man had arrived in the Bathurst region.
We saw a large Flock of Emus in Princess Charlotte’s Valley, and a great [number?] of Kangaroos, Pigeons, Quails, and a few Wild Geese
There are no longer “Flocks of Emus” in Princess Charlotte’s Vale; the Emu is regionally extinct (no wild emus remain in the Bathurst LGA). While there are a couple left wandering around on Mt Panorama, these have come from the Sir Joseph Banks Nature Park, which was decommissioned c. 15 years ago. The animals in the Park compound were released into the Mt Panorama precinct bushland – this included emus, kangaroos (including Red Kangaroos) and koalas, in an activity which was probably technically illegal, with no planning or management on behalf of Bathurst Council, and no oversight from the NPWS.
Macquarie later travelled to the Goulburn region (1820):
Mr McArthurs overseer presented me with Two Wild Turkey Eggs [and] a Stuffed Squirrel…
Dr Reid had 2 Water Moles and a Duck of a most curious species shot for him in the River
We saw several large Flocks of fine large Emus, and some fine large Turkeys, and hunted some of the former, but the dogs being rather shy did not kill any. The first Flock of 4 Emus which we saw were distant from us about 400 yards. The moment they perceived us they halted to look at us. We also pulled up our Horses to look at them. After they had reconnoitred us for a few minutes, they advanced towards us in a very bold majestic manner, at first walking smartly, but slackening their pace as they came nearer to us, until they had actually advanced within 15 yards of us. Then they halted and looked at us and we might have shot them all with the greatest ease had we had either Guns or Pistols, but we had neither [lucky Emus!] nor had we then even dogs with us.
We only saw one Kangaroo in this whole days march, but that was a large Forester, and was killed by Mr Throsby’s Dogs
On my way Home I shot a very fine large Wild Turkey
We hunted and killed a Native Dog…
…deviating ourselves a little from it for the purpose of Hunting in “Goulburn Plains” where we killed one large Emu and a Native Dog. The Commissioners Servants also killed a large Kangaroo in the open forest before we entered the Plains
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
Farmers use guns, and even engage shooters, to aggressively suppress kangaroos to “protect their livelihood”. Viggers & Hearn (2005) describes the annual culls that occur at the property “Cotter Farm”, which they included in their home range / density studies:
An annual cull of M. giganteus is carried out between April and July. In 2001, all kangaroos that could be detected were culled (c. 180) apart from radio-collared animals in the study that were exempt from being shot.
Croft (2005) discusses the kangaroos “extirpation from urban, agricultural and pastoral lands through direct destruction often aided by bounties (declared vermin in NSW in 1880) or indifference to loss of habitat, compounded by the introduction and lack of control of exotic competitors and predators”, citing Horndage (1972) for an account of how kangaroos have been persecuted:
Some graziers in the western division of NSW publicly rue the failure “to finish the job” with bullets and poison in the 1960’s drought
The situation at “Lana” in Taylors 1982 study into kangaroo group sizes is described as:
…there is considerable human predation of Grey Kangaroos
Yes the Aborigines – the kangaroos foremost predator before the arrival of Europeans – have been effectively removed from the landscape in NSW, and remain completely marginalised in any conversation about kangaroo management.
12,000 or so Wiradjuri formerly peopling the central west of NSW (according to Mitchell) have been replaced with 183,303 people in the Central West catchment management area in 2006 (Molino Stewart Pty Ltd 2009). Note that the Central West CMA lies almost completely within the former Wiradjuri lands, which includes also much of the Murrumbidgee catchment, with many tens or hundreds-of-thousands more people. In Tasmania, predation from 4,000-10,000 Tasmanian Aborigines, and 1,500-2000 Tasmanian Tigers (MacDougall 2010), have been replaced by impacts of 500,000 Tasmanians in 2006 (Jackson 2010).
In 2010 there were 726,930 guns licensed in NSW (NSW Firearms Registry, current to 23 January 2010); the Firearms Registry did not hazard a guess as to numbers of unregistered firearms in NSW in response to the author’s inquiry. There are 765,000 licensed shooters in Australia, and around 800 licensed “harvesters” in NSW. Ownership of guns and licenses is heavily weighted toward inhabitants of the rural and inland regions of the state; the Commissioner was “astounded” at numbers of guns in the Canobolas region in 2004 (Central Western Daily). The author’s own holding of a firearms licence for the humane destruction of irrecoverably injured animals will not represent a high percentage of motivations for licensing and gun ownership in the region.
Harvest quota for 2010 in NSW (DECCW 2010 Kangaroo Quota Report New South Wales):
Red Kangaroo: 417,656
Grey Kangaroos: 636,927
Total NSW Harvest Quota for 2010: 1,071,828 kangaroos
In addition we have s. 120 licensed killing, however the NPWS cannot provide any numbers for how many animals are destroyed across NSW for the purposes of “damage mitigation” each year, because there is no centralised database (Herring pers comm 2010). Don’t forget to count the joeys which are killed or die too – they would have been the next generation.
Australia’s rural population, particularly the young men, have a gun culture: “going shooting” is a weekend past-time – even city dwellers often have “a property they can go to”. Illegal hunting and shooting has been estimated to be double the licensed number (DECCW-NPWS Botanist Geoff Robertson pers comm 2003). Over the years the author has been regaled by tales of hunting of all things, including pigs, foxes, rabbits, goats and deer, but also often including stories of people “blowing the heads off” kangaroos, even in one instance the boast of chasing them on motor bikes, and chopping their heads off with a sword. The author has heard personal accounts of people shooting wombats, wallabies, echidnas and native birds – in fact “anything that moves” can be on the agenda, and if nothing is moving, shoot the trees.
Reports of illegal shooting are rarely investigated, let alone prosecuted. For example Mr Huey Tomlinson made several reports of shooting to Bathurst NPWS between 2009 and 2011; The NPWS response? One NPWS Ranger from Bathurst suggested that Mr Tomlinson is a “serial complainer” (pers comm 2009). When one of the other Rangers from the Bathurst office went to have a look after Mr Tomlinson called again, he found a dead kangaroo where Mr Tomlinson had directed he would. However there was no autopsy, no investigation, and no prosecution, because “this isn’t CSI, y’know” (pers comm 2010).
Is this killing having less, the same, or more of an impact on kangaroo numbers than a few tens- or hundreds-of-thousands of Aborigines used to? It seems improbable that numbers killed historically by Aboriginal hunters could exceed the present rate of slaughter.
What about their other predator, the dingo? They have indeed been largely exterminated through much of NSW, however they have been replaced with wild dogs and foxes. Hornsby 1982 shows that a single fox is capable of killing a juvenile wallaroo; Banks et al 2000 describes up to 50% of emergent pouch young as being taken during this stage of life by foxes. Are there more foxes today do you think, than there were dingoes 200 years ago?
Does anyone claim that kangaroos are not still subject to pressure from hunting and predation? This would be preposterous nonsense.
The cessation of the Australian Aborigine’s hunting way of life, and extermination of dingoes has not reduced hunting and predation pressure on kangaroo populations.
MYTH 3: KANGAROOS ARE A PEST
Farmers and many others in the rural and other Australian communities see kangaroos as “pests” or “vermin”, and eradicate them as such. NSW Agriculture even has a section called the “Vertebrate Pest Control Unit”, which supports harvesting of kangaroos as a “necessary” control for kangaroos in agricultural areas.
From The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary:
Pest n. 1 a troublesome or annoying person or thing; a nuisance. 2 a destructive animal, esp. an insect which attacks crops, livestock, etc 3 archaic a pestilence; a plague. pest-house hist. A hospital for sufferers of the plague etc. [French peste or Latin pestis ‘plague’]
Kangaroos do trouble and annoy the farming community, who often describe them as a nuisance or pest (or worse). Kangaroos continue to try to get to dams and feeding areas, and can cause damage to fences in the process, as they become entangled in them (and generally die). This is often cited as cause to shoot them (eg: Bathurst Regional Council ticked the box on their application to harm animals in 2009 “damage to fences”, despite providing no evidence of this).
While kangaroos, other native species, and the natural living environment generally, are often in conflict with agriculture, does this label them “pests” under the definition? Those native species which persist in developed landscapes are the displaced remnants and tatters of the native fauna of regional NSW, trying to subsist within a landscape which has been fundamentally transformed by the human pursuit of production objectives.
Olsen & Low (2006) (Executive Summary; pp 7):
The discontinuation of damage mitigation as grounds for harvesting is in many ways a more honest approach to kangaroo management given that damage is difficult to monitor, predict and even to prove empirically to be an issue. It has also removed the implication that kangaroos are pests.
Kangaroos are not scientifically proven to be pests.
MYTH 4: THERE ARE MORE THAN THERE EVER WERE; THERE ARE PLAGUES
Places where people claim “there weren’t any here when I was a kid” are more likely to have had suppressed populations rather than no kangaroos, with large-scale eradication programs (including shooting and poisoning) being a very common practice until the 1970s and 1980s. Around this time the commercial harvesters got their act together, and “take” reached a pinnacle of efficiency. The slaughter of kangaroos became a multi-million animal / multi-million dollar export industry, of which the government takes a cut.
Case Study: Kangaroos as Government Revenue
As well as tag revenue being the mechanism by which the KMAP is funded, the State also collects on the slaughter of Australian wildlife:
NPW (Fauna Protection) Regulation 2001 (under the NPWA 1974)
Part 2, clause 12. Payment of Royalty.
fauna dealer (kangaroo) means a person licensed under section 125 of the Act to deal in the skins of kangaroos, wallaroos or wallabies (but not in the skins of any other fauna)
trappers licence (birds) means a trappers licence (issued under section 123 of the Act) which authorises a person to harm birds for the purpose of sale
wholesaler means a person who deals in kangaroos, wallaroos or wallabies otherwise then by retail of as a skin trader.
By OEH’s own counts kangaroo populations in western NSW have declined by half in the last 10 years, and by up to 90% in some “management” (harvest) zones. Previous sections of this nomination discuss declines of species.
“Drought” is the reason most commonly posited for these declines, however even in the face of populations collapsing to 10% of their former number in some harvest zones, the quota and other shooting continues. In 2010 for the first time quotas were not allocated in the Griffith KMZ for the Eastern Grey Kangaroo, with populations slumping by half between 2008 and 2009, to critically low levels (shooting has now resumed).
This nomination provides a clear message: there are fewer kangaroos than there ever have been – if you are unsure, do the Simple Test again (look out your window and count the kangaroos). If the bleakest view is taken - Auty’s 2004 estimated pre-European populations of “one to two hundred million”, or this nomination’s own estimate of 220M (based on theoretical density calculations), present numbers may represent less than 10% of the former (pre-settlement) populations.
Australia already boasts 20% of all global extinctions of mammals (World Conservation Monitoring Centre 1992). Every instance of human development globally seems to have resulted in the decline (even to extinction) of the flora and fauna. Large herbivores are particularly prone to impacts of human development, having habitats across entire landscapes overwhelmed by the species chosen by agriculture – including but not necessarily limited to crops, cows, sheep, goats, horses and pigs. Unwanted “pest” species – which includes elephants in some countries – if not displaced, are driven out, and are often targeted by eradication programs, even “long-eared bandicoots” in the old days.
There are not more kangaroos now than there ever were.
MYTH 5: EASTERN GREY KANGAROO: RANGE EXTENSION WESTWARD
Caughley (1984) “monitored” the expansion of the Eastern Grey Kangaroo westward, which was described at a rate of c. 5km / annum, while simultaneously mapping clines of the ratio between Western and Eastern Grey Kangaroos all the way to the western border of NSW (reproduced in Cairns & Gilroy 2001).
If they occur all the way to the western border of the state (this is how they are mapped in Menkhorst 2001), and given that the South Australian Museum has Eastern Grey Kangaroo specimens collected in South Australia (which is west of NSW) how do researchers claim that Eastern Grey Kangaroos are “expanding” westward? Were the South Australian specimens time-travellers? Dr Roo perhaps? While population edges may be fluctuating, the “expanding range” of the Eastern Grey Kangaroo sounds like science fiction.
Eastern Grey Kangaroos are not expanding their range westward in NSW.
MYTH 6: KANGAROOS EAT ALL OUR GRASS (the farmers’ lament)
Competition with stock has been discussed in some detail above under Threats.
Nonetheless, to re-cap, and expand on the discussion, consider the following.
The prevailing figure for kangaroo dry sheep equivalent (DSE) had been that each kangaroo consumes 0.7 of the feed a sheep would consume (1.6 kangaroos are equivalent to one sheep). Grigg (2002) proposed that the figure is more like 0.2 (one sheep consumes as much as 5 kangaroos – cited in Olsen & Low 2006). A DSE for cows has been estimated to average about 12 (DPI 1997): the Grigg DSE of 0.2 indicates that a cow could be eating as much as 60 kangaroos would eat (previously in this nomination a lower cow DSE of 10 was used to calculate cow - kangaroo equivalents in NSW, just to be on the conservative side).
Without counting horses (which have also been allocated a DSE of 12), previous calculations indicate that there are 500M kangaroo equivalents grazing the rangelands of NSW, while there are only about 8M kangaroos.
Of the Total Grazing Pressure in NSW how much is attributable to kangaroos? 1.6%. To put it another way, stock animals consume as much as 98.4% of the herbage available in NSW.
Kangaroos do not eat all our grass.
MYTH 7: THE KANGAROO HARVEST IS HUMANE
The promoters of the harvest industry would have us believe that animals subject to shooting are standing peacefully and happily in the paddock, and that the shot comes out of the darkness, causing instantaneous death. This is “humane”.
From The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary (4th Ed 2004):
humane / hju:’mein / adj. 1. benevolent, compassionate. 2. Inflicting the minimum of pain. 3. (of a branch of learning) tending to civilise or confer refinement. humane killer an instrument for the painless slaughter of animals. humanely adv. Humaneness n. [variant of HUMAN, differentiated in sense in the 18th c.]
Obviously the first definition is not fitting; culling animals is neither benevolent, nor compassionate, nor is shooting joeys in the pouch, nor is beating joeys to death with a tyre lever or hammer, or decapitating them, crushing them, or bashing them against the base of a tree, a rock or wheelbase, as recommended in DECC’s CHKMP (2007) Code of Practice as “humane” practice.
Obviously also inflicting the “minimum of pain” (definition 2) is to not shoot the animals at all. It is difficult to tell how much pain is caused when you shoot something in the head; obviously however miss-hit animals could experience very high levels of pain. Most of the “approved” methods for killing joeys are not the “minimum” in pain, this would be administering a lethal injection or gas, or placing the rifle against the head of the joey, and shooting it (only this last is included in the Code, however this would happen rarely, as using additional ammunition costs money).
Guns (rifles) are not included in the class of equipment referred to as humane killers, which include captured bolt instruments, stunning and electrocution applications, and pistols (where the barrel is placed against the head of the animal to be shot).
The industry and OEH need to come up with a new term to describe how animals are treated during harvest. “Humane” it is not, unless the industry and regulators are of the opinion that death by firing squad is humane, and (against the international tide of opinion which was firm when it considered the clubbing of seal pups), that beating small animals to death, is humane. This also does not consider what happens to at-foot joeys when their mother is killed.
Kangaroo harvesting is not humane.
MYTH 8: EATING KANGAROO IS AN ETHICAL & “GREEN” MEAT CHOICE
The meat industry pushes kangaroo as the “green meat” – with no need for additional clearing or feeding, low water use, less emissions, the commercial harvest is humane etc (Ampt 2010). The term “kangatarian” has been invented in an attempt to badge this meat for consumption by the ethical consumer.
Widescale slaughter of wild animals, to such an extent that researchers class them as “quasi-extinct” through much of their range, is neither ethical nor sustainable. Mis-shooting animals, bludgeoning joeys, and leaving at-foot (dependent) joeys to perish after their mother is killed, is not a “green” and ethical meat choice.
Given the rest of the content of this nomination, particularly the decreasing numbers of the large macropods in the face of shooting and habitat loss, eating kangaroo will soon be equivalent to putting koala on the menu.
Eating kangaroo is not an ethical and “green” meat choice.
MYTH 9: A 15% QUOTA IS SUSTAINABLE
According to OEH and the kangaroo meat industry, a 15% quota is sustainable. Leaving the crashing official numbers and the bulk of the evidence presented in this nomination aside, and ignoring observable very low kangaroo densities throughout much of western and central NSW, this means that OEH consider that shooting 15% of the population per annum, is OK.
Unfortunately OEH considerations are based on their thinking that 15% of the population is killed across the range of the species (described as a proportion of the total population).
What happens on the ground however, are local eradications.
Shooters do not drive all that way out into the middle of nowhere to just shoot every 7th animal, they shoot entire family groups, perhaps leaving the smallest (many of which may be dependent “at-foot” young, which may subsequently perish). From the 2007-2011 Kangaroo Management Plan (DECC 2007):
Kangaroo shooters often shoot more than one kangaroo out of a group before driving to the carcasses to retrieve them.
Their “take” is then recalculated against the estimated KMZ population estimates, providing figures as low as 6% of the population. In effect though, through the areas where shooters operate, very high percentages of animals will have been shot. This will not be sustainable locally, particularly as pro-shooting farmers get shooters back again and again. This will have been a very significant contributor to creating regions where there are now no kangaroos, and why the industry has pushed for new harvest zones in recent years.
Further, and critically, population growth is given for the species as being only 9-11% per annum (Arnold et al 1991) or thereabouts (possibly up to 14% in Wallaroo and Red Kangaroo). How can shooting 15-17% of a population (or 30%) be sustainable, when this rate exceeds their replacement rate? Given the rate of harvest over the last 10 years, and crashing kangaroo numbers, how can this rate of harvest be considered to have been sustainable? (note the harvest rate was recently dropped to 10% in KMZ Griffith on resumption of shooting – is a 10% harvest rate supposed to be the “new” sustainable?)
A 15% quota is not sustainable.
MYTH 10: KANGAROOS CAN REPLACE TRADITIONAL LIVESTOCK
This is something a group of researchers calling themselves the “Conservation Through Sustainable Use” researchers (or CSU) promote. Putting kangaroo on the plate increases their value for farmers, and valuing them thus will see them replacing stock. Gordon Grigg has been banging on about this for years, and wonders why it hasn’t happened.
Simply put, kangaroos will never “replace” traditional stock – they do not grow wool (a “woolly jumper” does not exist), nor do they reproduce or grow fast enough or produce enough meat to satisfy the meat market. Numbers have been calculated for how many kangaroos would be needed to sustain a market, requiring something like 175M animals living in the wild, according to Ramp 2010.
At an unimpeded growth rate of 10% per annum, with threats such as shooting, habitat loss, roads and fences all being remedied, and assuming that there are 25M kangaroos left today, it will take 22 years to build the population up to the required 175M animals.
Kangaroos can not replace traditional livestock as a meat source.