A Stronger Leather Industry Would lead to Better Kangaroo Welfare and Conservation

ROO RUNS A stronger kangaroo industry would lead to better kangaroo welfare and conservation not only of kangaroo populations but also landscapes and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. PENNY / PIXABAY

Most of Australia’s 40 million kangaroos are on pastoral land and in good seasons their numbers increase dramatically. They are a cost to landowners by limiting livestock numbers that might otherwise be carried, reducing livestock carcass weights and wool production, encroaching on paddocks being spelled, damaging existing fences and increasing the cost of other fences.

With the right incentives and rewards, this situation would be reversed, and landholders would regard kangaroos as assets and not pests. Kangaroo meat and skins would be produced alongside other livestock and benefit landholder who feed them.

Although the kangaroo industry is only small, it is currently contracting as a consequence of activity by misguided animal rights activists. As a result, non-commercial kill is increasing which leads to considerable wastage and, increasingly, poor animal welfare outcomes.

Lifting the value of products including skins and leather, and ensuring take of kangaroos by professionals is sustainable, and will help grow the kangaroo industry.

The process should be supported more strongly by government and other meat industries, so that benefits could accrue to landholders, including Indigenous owners on whose properties kangaroos occur.

We argue that in a changing social, economic and physical environment there should be more harvesting by professional kangaroo shooters not less. A stronger kangaroo industry would lead to better kangaroo welfare and conservation not only of kangaroo populations but also landscapes and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The figure (below) shows that kangaroo populations fluctuate widely irrespective of the commercial harvest which is a tiny proportion of the population. A stronger industry would prevent the rises in good seasons and the subsequent crashes. 

Kangaroo populations fluctuate widely irrespective of the commercial harvest which is a tiny proportion of the population. GEORGE WILSON / AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE SERVICES

The closing of the kangaroo industry would be the end of nationally coordinated kangaroo management plans and that would be the worst-case scenario for a number of reasons.

Kangaroo populations proliferate in good weather and when drought hits, food and water become scarce and millions of kangaroos starve, which is a less humane death than a head shot.

Landholders and conservation land managers will continue to cull kangaroos when their numbers are high, even without an industry. The carcasses would be wasted and undesirable because pest culling is not as tightly regulated as those taken by the industry and different standards are adopted for pest culling. Only commercial harvesting requires head shots.

When kangaroos are culled as pests the carcases are not checked and therefore, in addition to different standards, there is increased opportunities for wrong doings. Kangaroos are distributed over millions of hectares in Australia which means that it is impossible for regulators to check what happens in the outback unless the carcases are brought to a receiving point. The commercial industry requires that the animals be brought in and can be monitored.

Activists see kangaroo products in stores, but they overlook the culling of pest kangaroos in the field or the dying of kangaroos and destruction of kangaroos during drought. On the other hand, wildlife scientists who work in the outback see death by starvation, death by unregulated culling, damage to ecosystems, and reduction in sustainability.

Both activist and scientist are aiming to do what’s best with the knowledge they possess, but the activist knowledge is limited to what they see in social media while the scientist’s knowledge is based on field observations and scientific rigour. We need to be asking activists why they exhaust so much on protecting a kangaroo from being harvested but not from other worse fates? 

The closing of the kangaroo industry would be the end of nationally coordinated kangaroo management plans and that would be the worst-case scenario for a number of reasons. GEORGE WILSON / AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE SERVICES

There is a misconception overseas that kangaroos are rare and endangered macropods. While there are some species of macropods that are threatened, they have not reached that state because of commercial harvesting. They are small and affected by introduced predators and habitat change. The large kangaroos are very abundant and are harvested commercially under a tightly controlled and nationally coordinated management programme. These species are not rare or endangered but quite prolific, with population estimates made frequently to enable harvesting quotas to be set so the population remains sustainable.

Online claims from animal activists about kangaroo leather come from people who have already formed opinions of the industry. The special edition of Environmental Management and Restoration on kangaroos is a compilation of informed refereed views of a wide consecution of wildlife scientists.

Notwithstanding that the commercial industry does not threaten kangaroos populations, kangaroo management can be improved. Australia currently has state-based kangaroo management plans which aim to ensure that populations are stable without saying what that is. Most management plans don’t address the problem of how to integrate kangaroos with other land uses. So yes, kangaroo management needs improvement.

One of the concluding papers in the journal above advocates the preparation of a National Kangaroo Strategy with extensive consultation to set clear and concise rules that deliver outcomes for the environment and enable development to continue in a sustainable way. A national, collaborative approach, featuring evidenced-based decision making and education of the public is needed to build a broad social mandate for improved management of kangaroos in Australia.

Campaigns by animal preservationists to shut down the kangaroo industry are increasing the suffering of kangaroos and thus leading to adverse animal welfare outcomes that would appear to be contrary to their own objectives. When professional control diminishes, killing of kangaroos does not stop; amateur shooting increases. Kangaroos in drought starve through over-population. Regulators cannot monitor the number of kangaroos killed nor ensure high standards of dispatch of animals.

DROUGHTS ARE CRUEL During droughts, a kangaroo would simply lie down and die slowly and painfully. The cruel impact of drought on kangaroo populations is regularly highlighted in Australian media. RACHAEL WEBB / HAWKESBURY GAZETTE

There are parallels with noisy climate change deniers who, although in a small minority, capture the attention of the press and have a major impact on outcomes. There is a need to counter their non-science statements.

We would like to appeal to animal preservationists not to continue their campaign because of the environmental damage and animal welfare problems you are creating. To the vegetarians amongst you, Become kangatarians.

Killing for conservation is more sensible kangaroo management and better use of the kangaroo resource. It takes advantage of kangaroo adaptations and is an opportunity currently begging for adoption.

Most kangaroo skins are currently dumped. Such wastage needs to be minimised and the benefits of sustainable use of kangaroos realised to the benefit of both Indigenous and other landholders on whose properties they occur. Taking up the opportunity at scale is long overdue but we recognise that changing the status of kangaroos is a paradigm shifting and complex undertaking. It involves not only activities which farmers can control, but also product management, marketing, and changing public attitudes. It begins with the importance of animal welfare and greater respect for kangaroo. Making greater use of kangaroo skins could be integral to improving rangelands ecosystems.

Now is also the time to do this. There is notable push by both state and federal legislators to ensure Australian agriculture performs at its best. Kangaroo co-production should be part of this process. It would ensure that the more sustainable, innovative and improved land management practices are adopted, not business as usual, which has seen significant erosion of natural capital and often is financially unsustainable. We would like to hear from investors in delivering these benefits. 

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