The management of kangaroos is a contentious issue. Depending on an individual’s beliefs they are a valuable resource that can be sustainably harvested, pests that need to be controlled, or a national icon that should be conserved.
There is broad agreement (Frith 1964; Newsome 1975; Shepherd and Caughley 1987) amongst ecologists that kangaroos—particularly those inhabiting the rangelands—have increased in abundance since European settlement due to the proliferation of water points, modification of vegetation communities to favour foods preferred by kangaroos and reduction in predation. This increase in abundance has brought them into conflict with many pastoralists and crop growers who contend that kangaroos compete with stock for food and water, consume crops and damage fences. To reduce the potential for conflict, kangaroos are culled or commercially harvested.
Although the origins of the present kangaroo industry trace back to rural support for it as a form of self-funding pest control, current management is focussed more on promoting sustainable use. Present harvest quotas, per annum, are typically 10-20% of conservatively estimated populations, and harvesters seldom ever reach these quotas. It is thought that harvests of 20% reduce populations by about 30-40% compared with an unharvested population, yet sections of the rural community and some other stakeholders seek to increase quotas to reduce total grazing pressure on rangelands. Current harvest quotas are thought to be not far below maximum sustainable yields, although annual offtakes may be well above the maximum sustainable yield regionally and where immigration is a very significant factor in kangaroo demography (Pople 1996).
Despite the perceived contention around the commercial use of native wildlife, commercial kangaroo harvesting has a high level of acceptance by governments and the general public (McLeod and Sharp 2014). In contrast, non-commercial culling has much lower acceptance. Despite the general public’s high level of acceptance for commercial kangaroo harvesting, demand and supply of kangaroo products has rarely been limited by the quota. There have been claims that increasing the value and demand for kangaroo products could also address land management issues (Wilson and Edwards 2019), particularly in rangelands that are under stress from total grazing pressure. The argument is that, if the value of kangaroo products were to increase, graziers could reduce the stocking rate of domestic stock and maintain profitability by diversifying their income through requiring access fees to be paid by the commercial kangaroo industry (Choquenot et al. 1998). This change could help address overgrazing issues if the overall densities of both domestic stock and other grazers can be maintained at levels sustainable under contemporary climatic (and hence pasture) conditions.
In the past decade a number of significant developments have influenced the commercial harvest of kangaroos. Most notably these changes include the exclusion of kangaroos (and other wildlife) by the erection of barrier fences or ‘cluster fences’ (Bradby et al. 2014; Clark et al. 2018), and changes in harvesting strategy to only include male kangaroos. The short- and long-term impacts of barrier fencing on the ecology and welfare of kangaroos, both within and outside of fences, are poorly understood, with research and legislation lagging the creation of new exclusion zones. The long-term effects on kangaroo populations of highly sex-selective harvest strategies are also poorly understood. It is currently unclear if these changes will negatively influence the sustainability of the harvest.
Kangaroos refers to the currently harvested species of the Family Macropodidae.
Sustainable use is taken to mean a harvest that can be continued indefinitely. Three aspects of use must be satisfied for sustainable use to be likely, which are: i) biological—the population of the harvested animal is not adversely impacted; ii) economic — use is profitable; and iii) social—use is culturally acceptable (Milner-Gulland and Mace 2009). In addition, since the interaction between wildlife and their use is dynamic and financial markets and the aspirations of society may change, the balance between the aims of sustainable use may shift over time.
Viable populations are taken to mean populations that would not qualify for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List categories of ‘Vulnerable’ or ‘Near Threatened’ according to the criteria approved by the 40th meeting of the IUCN Council, 30 November 1994.
Based on the above, THE AUSTRALASIAN WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT SOCIETY:
SUPPORTS the commercial use of those species of macropod which are now harvested, subject to adherence to an approved management program and the satisfaction of the other criteria identified in the AWMS position paper on the Commercial Use of Wildlife. The addition of any other species should be undertaken only after careful consideration with respect to the same criteria;
RECOGNISES the importance of maintaining viable populations of all commercially harvested kangaroo species throughout their current ranges;
RECOGNISES that, in the interests of sustainable land use and the conservation of biological diversity, there is a need to reduce overall grazing pressure in Australia's rangelands;
ACKNOWLEDGES that a substantial reduction in grazing pressure by removing kangaroos is limited by concerns about kangaroo conservation, while reduction of grazing pressure by removing domestic livestock is limited at present by economic factors;
ACKNOWLEDGES that kangaroo harvesting at present rates is perceived as having insufficient effect in reducing grazing pressure in the sheep rangelands;
RECOGNISES that commercial harvests in addition to non-commercial culling at non-sustainable rates would jeopardise the conservation of viable populations of kangaroos and the future of the kangaroo industry;
RECOGNISES that a reduction in grazing pressure could be achieved more easily if the value of kangaroo products increased to the point where they could be seen by landholders as a valuable resource;
ACKNOWLEDGES the potential role of an increased-value kangaroo industry to help achieve reductions in grazing pressure, through providing landholders with a mechanism to maintain economic viability at reduced sheep numbers; and therefore
SUPPORTS IN PRINCIPLE the idea of achieving a conservation benefit from a government regulated, high value, sustainable kangaroo industry.
Accordingly, AWMS recommends that:
There is an economic analysis of a range of possible grazing regimes, incorporating the results of research and development as outlined above.
Bradby, K., Fitzsimons, J. A., Marco, A. D., Driscoll, D. A., Ritchie, E. G., Lau, J., Bradshaw, C. J. A., and Hobbs, R. J. (2014). Ecological connectivity or Barrier Fence? Critical choices on the agricultural margins of Western Australia. Ecological Management & Restoration 15, 180–190. doi:10.1111/emr.12130
Choquenot, D., Caughley, J., and McLeod, S. (1998). ‘Scientific, economic and social issues of commercial use of wild animals in Australia’. (Bureau of Resource Sciences Canberra.)
Clark, P., Clark, E., Allen, B.L. (2018). Sheep, dingoes and kangaroos: new challenges and a change of direction 20 years on. In 'Advances in conservation through sustainable use of wildlife.' Eds G Baxter, N Finch, P Murray. pp. 173-178. (University of Queensland: Brisbane)
Frith, H. J. (1964). Mobility of the red kangaroo, Megaleia rufa. CSIRO Wildlife Research 9, 1–19. doi:10.1071/cwr9640001
McLeod, S. R., and Sharp, M. (2014). Improving the humaneness of commercial kangaroo harvesting. PRJ-004103. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra, ACT. Available at: https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/items/13-116.
Milner-Gulland, E. J., and Mace, R. (2009). ‘Conservation of biological resources’. (John Wiley & Sons.)
Newsome, A. E. (1975). An ecological comparison of the two arid-zone kangaroos of Australia, and their anomalous prosperity since the introduction of ruminant stock to their environment. The Quarterly Review of Biology 50, 389–424.
Pople, A. R. (1996). Effects of harvesting upon the demography of red kangaroos in western Queensland. Unpublished PhD thesis. University of Queensland, Australia.
Shepherd, N., and Caughley, G. (1987). Options for management of kangaroos. In ‘Kangaroos: Their Ecology and Management in the Sheep Rangelands of Australia.’ (Eds G. Caughley, N. Shepherd, and J. Short.) pp. 188–219. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.)
Wilson, G. R., and Edwards, M. (2019). Professional kangaroo population control leads to better animal welfare, conservation outcomes and avoids waste. Australian Zoologist. doi:10.7882/AZ.2018.043
This position statement reflects the content of cited papers and the opinions of the authors. While the views expressed in this position statement have been circulated for comment within the Society, they do not necessarily reflect the views of the AWMS committee or all AWMS members. AWMS makes no claim as to the accuracy of this document and any party using this information does so at their own risk.
Reviewed: April 2020