Kangaroos are exploited for their skins and bodies. The kangaroo industry is the largest consumptive mammalian wildlife industry in the world. This industry has a high risk to kangaroo welfare, to the role of kangaroos in threatened ecosystems, and to Australian society.
There are four main species of kangaroo that are killed for commercial purposes for meat, skins and leather on Australia’s mainland. These are the Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus), Western GreyKangaroo (M. fuliginosus), RedKangaroo (Osphranter rufus) and the Wallaroo (O. robustus). In Tasmania three species of kangaroo and wallaby are used commercially for pet food or human consumption, the Forester Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus tasmaniensis), red-necked wallaby or Bennett's wallaby (Notamacropus rufogriseus) and Pademelon (Thylogalebillardierii).
The states of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria exports kangaroo products internationally. This requires Commonwealth Government approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
Both the size of the macropod populations and the commercial kangaroo industry in Queensland is greater than the rest of Australia combined.
The kangaroo industry operates under Queensland’s “Commercially Harvested Macropods 2018–22” Plan. The state is divided into four harvest zones one of which is a non-harvested zone. The Plan allows commercial shooters to target three species (red and eastern grey kangaroos and wallaroos). The reported commercial harvest of macropods has increased steadily since the industry was first regulated in 1992.
The majority of the harvest in Queensland is for whole carcasses with the skin left on. There is a small skin only harvest in Queensland accounting for less than 10% of the annual take. These macropods are usually harvested too far from a licenced dealer to sell carcasses.
There is no commercial or non-commercial killing in any national parks or other public reserves in Queensland. These parks and reserves act as refugia for local kangaroo populations.
Populations have been in steady decline since the start of the extended drought that has affected Queensland since 2013. In that period, red kangaroos have declined by around 50% from 8.1 million to 4.14 million, eastern grey kangaroos have decreased by around 45% from 18.25 million to 10.04 million and wallaroos have declined by around 55% from 6.45 million to 2.48 million.
The situation worsened in 2019 when widespread flooding across inland Queensland further decimated kangaroo populations. Link
Many commercial kangaroo shooters have also blamed the mass and in many cases illegal and inhumane culling of kangaroos by landholders inside cluster exclusion fences (which cover hundreds of thousands of kilometres in Qld for the steep decline in numbers.
As a result these declines, which in some areas have fallen below set trigger points in the Plan, the Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) suspended commercial kangaroo industry operations of eastern grey kangaroos across a large parts of central and western Queensland and of common wallaroos for the central-southern zone in 2020. Link
Further suspensions have been applied for red and eastern grey kangaroos and wallaroos in three zones for 2021. Link
Although these suspensions, landholders are still able to apply for Damage Mitigation Permits (DMPs) if they can demonstrate economic loss or impacts on human health and safety from wildlife. DMPs are capped at a maximum of two per cent of the total Queensland kangaroo population. In 2020, that figure was 291,064. Link
In 2020, in some commercial zones the estimated population density fell to what is considered to place kangaroos at risk of localised extinction i.e. 2 kangaroos per square kilometre. In 2021 red kangaroo densities are considered at risk of localised extinction in 5 out of 9 harvest zones in New South Wales, while grey kangaroo populations have reached densities generally considered at risk of extinction in 3 out of 9 harvest zones in New South Wales.
According to Hacker et al. 2004 harvesting that “results in an average long-term density of less than 10 kangaroos/sq km should be rejected since in all such cases the minimum density is likely to fall below the critical level”.
Based on this information in New South Wales only three years (2014-2016) out of 18 years (2002 to 2020) the red kangaroo density was more than 10 kangaroos per square kilometre. We also note that this density has been ‘estimated’ after the correction factors and bootstrapping has been applied which risk inflating kangaroo population estimates to serve the narrative that kangaroos are abundant. Western grey kangaroo abundance has also decreased over the same period from 1.59 million to 630,000 with densities where they are at risk of localised extinctions.
Due to the inherent time lags in the methodology of setting quotas and publishing population estimates, we are now seeing kill quotas and population estimates in some New South Wales shooting zones, and for some species, where the numbers are very similar. That means the shooters are authorised to kill every remaining animal in that zone leading to localised extinction.
The ACT seems to be a leader in developing policies that continue to push the limits of what is being done to Kangaroos, what is ‘lawful’, what levels of cruelty are acceptable and what rates of killing can be tolerated. As elsewhere, numbers are exaggerated and current killing rates are a very long way from sustainable.
The shooting of kangaroos in Canberra’s nature reserves began in 2004 when about 800 Kangaroos were shot in the reserve adjacent to Googong Dam. While this land is in New South Wales the land is managed by the ACT Government and hence was this government’s first direct foray into the world of mass killing of Australian wildlife, namely Kangaroos. Since then many thousands of kangaroos have been shot and bashed to death under instruction from the ACT Government.
The most terrible aspect of the treatment of kangaroos in the ACT include a policy that kangaroos and their joeys MUST NOT be rescued and rehabilitated if they are injured in the ACT and another, the use of kangaroo meat as a vector for 1080 poison. There are very substantial fines for Canberra residents protesting the kangaroo slaughter on their doorstep and, as in other parts of Australia, the people who care about wildlife have few or no rights. Exclusion fencing is now being used to exclude wildlife from significant areas within the nature parks.
In 2021 the ACT Government announced that ‘up to 700 kangaroo carcasses from the 2021 ‘conservation’ culling program will be donated to an endangered native species breeding program. This initiative supports conservation of an endangered species and reduces waste produced by the conservation cull.’
The commercial kangaroo industry has been operating in South Australia for 40 years. SA is home to the largest retail distributor of kangaroo products in Australia. In South Australia six species of kangaroo and wallaby are killed commercially, the Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroo, Red Kangaroo and the Euro as well as the Sooty Kangaroo and Tammar Wallaby from Kangaroo Island.
Despite overwhelming opposition the SA Minister for Environment and Water approved a new SA Commercial Kangaroo Management Plan (2020-2024) on 1 January 2020.
The new plan:
The expansion of the commercial industry occurred despite clear evidence that fact drought was resulting in significant declines kangaroo numbers in the north of the state. Since 2018 kangaroo numbers in SA have declined by a massive 45%. Declines between 2020 and 2021 included:
Because of the devastating bushfires on Kangaroo Island in January 2020, commercial harvest zone expansion on the Island was put on hold. This resumed in 2021.
Based on 2020 aerial survey results, commercial harvesting resumed on Kangaroo Island in 2021 with a reduced quota set at 10% of the population estimate for Western Grey Kangaroos and 7% of the estimated population of Tammar Wallabies (a reduction of 67%).
Since settlement, Victoria’s kangaroos have been killed for food, then sport and later for the fur trade. However, it has always had a much smaller populations of kangaroos that could not support a commercial industry. In 1980 the government attempt established a commercial kangaroo industry, yet within 2 years, overshooting resulted in kangaroo numbers being reduced to quasi-extinction levels across Victoria, forcing the government to put an end to it.
Successive Victorian governments subsequently rejected calls to re-establish a commercial industry in Victoria until 2014 when the then state government set up the Kangaroo Pet Food Trial (KPFT).
This “trial” allowed landowners to engage commercial kangaroo shooters to operate on their properties under special permits.
Despite assurances from the state government that the trial would be “closely monitored”, the government’s own evaluation of the trial in 2017 found that:
Despite these warnings, the trial was expanded and extended. In October 2019, without any public consultation, established a permanent kangaroo meat and skins industry in Victoria.
Red kangaroos are not subject to commercial shooting in Victoria thanks to the efforts of local activists who are argued that this would present a significant risk because of the limited distribution and low numbers (around 30,000).
This industry operates in addition to the ATCW permit system. The number of kangaroos killed in the name of “damage mitigation” has more than doubled in the last 10 years. The government also authorises large scale “kangaroo control” programs that take place in National Parks and on other public land in Victoria.
Attitudes to the killing of wildlife are changing. The Victorian community is becoming more aware of and concerned about the inherent cruelty and sustainability of the kangaroo industry.
Strong pro-kangaroo alliances have formed and these along with local communities are taking on the kangaroo industry through local protests and campaigns as well as advocacy and the provision of important evidence to government inquiries and reviews.
Victorian kangaroo advocates, including the Australian Wildlife Shelters Coalition and the Australian Wildlife Protection Council are currently preparing a comprehensive, evidence-based report on the treatment of kangaroos in Victoria.
This report will focus on challenging the pest control narrative used to justify commercial kangaroo operations and the chronic mismanagement of kangaroo populations at a time when Victoria’s kangaroos are under increasing threat and argue for the urgent need to shift from the current model of control and exploitation of kangaroos to one of co-existence.
In Western Australia two species of Kangaroo are currently exploited commercially, the Red Kangaroo and the Western Grey Kangaroo. In 2021, the quota for the Red Kangaroo is set at 17 per cent of the annual population estimate, for the Western Grey Kangaroo the quota is set at 15 per cent.
Since 2003 the number of Kangaroos killed commercially shows significant decline. There was no commercial harvest of Euros from 2003-2006 and from 2010-2015. There is no current plan that allows shooting of Euros for commercial purposes, however Euros are shot for non-commercial purposes on farmland or leasehold land used for grazing.
No commercial activity in relation to Kangaroos at this time, which would likely be culturally unacceptable. The Northern Territory makes the point that the financial outcomes of creating a commercial trade in Kangaroos, Red Kangaroos and Euros, given very low population densities, would be unacceptable. Densities much higher than five Kangaroos per square kilometer are required to sustain a commercial industry over the majority of a shooting zone.
In Tasmania there are three species of kangaroo and wallaby used commercially for pet food or human consumption, the Forester Kangaroo, Bennett's Wallaby and Pademelon.
For the Forester Kangaroo, commercial activity occurs as a result of the transitioning of damage mitigation type permits to commercial use. A survey of the species was conducted in 2019. The 2019 survey population estimates conducted by the
Tasmanian Government gave a population of 30,000 to 40,000 which is unlikely given the high numbers killed each year. In the years 2015 through to August 2019, 35,664 Forester Kangaroos were killed under permit, about 21,000 of those were transitioned to commercial use. The number killed in the period roughly equals the Forester Kangaroo’s estimated population at the close of 2019.
The Tasmanian Government states Forester Kangaroos are protected wildlife under the Nature Conservation Act 2002. The abundance and distribution of Foresters declined by 90 per cent following European settlement. Populations of Foresters remain in several pockets of the Midlands and Northeast (Hocking, 2009). Foresters occur primarily on private land resulting in conflict when browsing on crops and pastures.’
The Bennett's Wallaby and the Pademelon area also killed commercially and as kangaroo populations on the mainland dwindle these two species are under increasing pressure and more and more of these animals are being transported to the mainland as pet food.
The Tasmanian Government estimates that an average of about 500,000 wallabies are killed in Tasmania each year with about 10 per cent of these animals being transitioned to commercial use. It is likely that the commercial exploitation of these species is increasing rapidly.