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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 15:04 GMT
Kangaroo cull targets millions
Red Kangaroo
Some estimates put the 'roo population at 60 million
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By Phil Mercer
BBC regional reporter in Brisbane
There is outrage in Australia at plans to slaughter millions of the country's favourite animal - the kangaroo.

Government experts have increased the numbers allowed to be shot by commercial hunters from over five-and-a-half million every year to seven-million.

Animal rights campaigners have described the cull as a "killing frenzy".

Boxing Kangaroos
But animal activists say the numbers could be wildly inflated
Farmers have a very different view. They say parts of Australia are in the grip of a 'roo plague after an "explosion" in numbers.

Jonathan McEwen, the chief executive of the New South Wales Farmers' Association, says the state has seen its population of these unique marsupials leap from eight-million to over 13 million in just one year.

He says the damage they cause is disastrous:

  • crops are eaten

  • fences are destroyed

  • the Outback's most vital resource - water - is quickly depleted

An organised campaign of slaughter, says Jonathan McEwen, is the only way to help farmers and stop the kangaroos breeding themselves out of existence.

Commercial commodity

"Many consumers around the world are doing the kangaroo population a big favour by buying the products," he says, "because that market enables a proper commercial culling to ensure the on-going survival of a sustainable number of kangaroos."

If there is a compelling environmental argument for killing so many of Australia's national icon, there are certainly sound economic reasons. The kangaroo export trade is a multi-million dollar industry.

The meat is increasingly popular in Europe, North America and Japan. England footballers David Beckham and Michael Owen now wear kangaroo hide football boots.

Animal welfare

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in Australia believes the ecological reasons given by the authorities to justify the hike in the cull simply do not add up.

It's not always that easy to get a clean shot to the animal's head

Steve Coleman, RSPCA
Steve Coleman from the RSPCA in New South Wales believes the slaughter could endanger this native species. There's a chance, he says, the estimated number of kangaroos has been wildly inflated.

"It seems that nobody has done any independent study on kangaroo numbers and that is a worry," he said.

The size of the 'roo population varies from 15 million up to 60 million - or three to every Australian. The concern of animal activists isn't just about numbers, there is unease about the way hunters go about their business.

Steve Coleman told News Online many animals die painful deaths at the hands of unlicensed or inexperienced marksmen: "Unless the shooter is qualified our concern is that it's not always that easy to get a clean shot to the animal's head."

"I think there is a definite need to have a more effective control over those who are out there hunting on a commercial basis to make sure the quotas are not exceeded."

The views of the RSPCA drew this response from the New South Wales Farmers' Association. Its chief executive Jonathan McEwen said: "This is typical of the environmental lobby. They do tend to see things outside the boundaries of reality."

National symbol

For many visitors, the kangaroo is the most powerful symbol of Australia. Will Wood, a 19-year-old old backpacker from Birmingham in the UK, said they're truly amazing: "I saw one at Kings Canyon the other day just after sunrise and just sat there watching it for ages.

"It was incredible the speed they can get up in such a short space of time."

He then admitted he had eaten a kangaroo steak. "It was very nice," he said.

His friend, Natasha from Dunbar in Scotland, said it was okay to kill the kangaroos to make money. But would she ever eat one?

"No," came the answer; "I'm a vegetarian."

See also:

04 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Kangaroo off the menu
16 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Kangaroo meat boom
22 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Gourmet kangaroos face extinction
03 Dec 98 | Sci/Tech
The making of the marsupials
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