Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Kangaroos Can Be an Asset Rather Than a Pest

By George Wilson

Kangaroo harvesting is not a commercial option for landholders, resulting in greater animal welfare issues for the kangaroos that are culled on private land.

Many graziers on the rangelands are under financial stress. Their solution is to produce more meat and wool, grow more grass, clear trees, remove wild dogs to increase lambing percentages, and lower kangaroo numbers.

In recent years a lack of demand has meant that less than half the annual kangaroo quota for commercial use has been taken. Therefore, many graziers have sought other means to lower numbers of valueless kangaroos so that more income-earning stock can be carried.

Non-commercial kangaroo control has poor animal welfare and biodiversity outcomes. It is occurring within government-sponsored clusters of fences. The practice of “shoot and let lie” means that regulators can’t assess how many kangaroos are taken. They can’t monitor either shooter accuracy and skill, or compliance with welfare codes.

Animal rights campaigners are achieving their aim of reducing the demand for kangaroo products. The consequence is an increase in animal suffering wherever populations are higher than the environment can support. Unregulated inhumane control mechanisms ensue. Kangaroos are herded along fences and shot by amateurs, resulting in wounding, as evidenced by lead contamination and muscle stress myopathy in the few carcasses that do subsequently enter the commercial harvesting industry.

Kangaroo management could be much improved. In 2017 an average kangaroo was worth $13. If it was as valuable as a feral goat or even a wild deer, landholders would have an incentive to co-produce kangaroos alongside conventional livestock and make greater use of commercial harvesting. Doing so would also help address the falling sustainability of many rangeland production systems and strengthen economic activity in rural towns.

Raising the market value of kangaroo products requires an emphasis on their positive attributes, including meat that is high protein, low fat, low greenhouse gas-emitting, high boning-out percentage and low in water-use compared with cattle and sheep.

A more valuable kangaroo industry would raise the quality of kangaroo products, obtain sustainability certification, track provenance, and integrate production with other grazing animals.

Innovation, research, coordinated investment and champions are needed to acheive these aims. Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation, and both state and Federal industry development and agriculture departments could help with this.

Landholders need a form of proprietorship over kangaroos to encourage them to play a role in promoting kangaroo products and creating greater demand. Current kangaroo harvesting quotas are set by governments as a proportion of existing populations, which are variable. An alternative would be to set population targets based on total grazing pressure that take account of densities of other herbivores. It would reverse the situation where landholders are expected to carry an unstated number of animals that has no relationship to the carrying capacity of their properties, seasonal conditions or competing land uses.

An integrated kangaroo industry would emphasise the animal welfare advantages of taking kangaroos in the field. Head shots might be ugly, but death is instantaneous and there is no transport of live animals to slaughter, so the meat is stress-free. The kangaroo industry also uses less infrastructure and less energy.

Australia needs more professional harvesting, not less. I’d like to ask animal rights campaigners whether they are aware of the unintended consequences of their activities. I’d like to encourage vegetarians to become “kangatarians”.

I would also like to appeal to graziers. Why not get behind and promote commercial kangaroo use? Stronger prices will be achieved through higher quality, differentiating product on the basis of provenance, species, sex and age.

Better kangaroo management is not a threat to conventional livestock. Forty million kangaroos are already on your lands, and you are their reluctant stewards. Indeed, continuation of current trends could threaten your social licence to produce conventional livestock. Therefore ask Meat and Livestock Australia to work with the kangaroo industry.

Such changes are paradigm-shifting but necessary to improve kangaroo welfare, reduce current wastage and enable sustainability. They could lead to less livestock and more kangaroos of higher value. They would bring sustainability and economic benefits to both indigenous and other landholders on whose properties kangaroos occur, and to nearby rural communities.

I’m working with a group of kangaroo harvesters and graziers to prepare an investment prospectus to do this. If you would like more information later, email aws@awt.com.au.


George Wilson is Honorary Professor at the Australian National University’s Fenner School of Environment and Society. He focuses on developing wildlife industries and tourism opportunities that support conservation, and integrating traditional knowledge and wildlife science into the management of indigenous Aboriginal land.