Page last updated at 04:42 GMT, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Kangaroo 'plague' follows Australian rains

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

kangaroos are corralled in a pen before they are culled at a abandoned Department of Defense property near Canberra, May 20
Some kangaroos due for culling are being held in a disused army base

Farmers in northern Australia say a plague of kangaroos is overrunning their properties.

They have said it is causing tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage.

Recent heavy rainfall in parts of Queensland has prompted large numbers of marsupials to flock to the newly green countryside.

Further south, however, a long-standing drought has forced authorities to suspend the culling of kangaroos in parts of New South Wales.

Extinction puzzle

In outback Queensland, grazier Stephen Tully said his sheep farm had been invaded by thousands of kangaroos.

Recent rains have brought his brown fields back to life. The prospect of a lush meal has proved to be irresistible to mobs of marsupials, which have been munching their way through the vegetation.

"It's grass that we need to feed to our own stock but it's also grass. If that grass goes, environmentally it's terrible. We see dust. When the wind comes up our dust goes to Brisbane. That's the stuff that we want to try and stop," Mr Tully said.

It is not only wet weather that has boosted marsupial numbers but also Russia's suspension of kangaroo meat imports earlier this year because of hygiene concerns.

The decision means fewer animals are being hunted under licence.

The mayor of the Murweh Shire in western Queensland, Mark O'Brien, is keen for the trade to clean up its act and drive out rogue operators.

"It's one of those industries that we describe out here as alternate economic engines that we've been looking for to replace a very quickly declining sheep and wool industry. When we open it up again, the cowboys will find that they won't be able to sell the product," he explained.

While kangaroo populations may have increased sharply in Queensland, officials in New South Wales say a severe drought has caused numbers of two species - eastern and western greys - to fall significantly.

A temporary ban on hunting has been imposed in a 100,000 sq km (38,610 sq miles) area near the town of Griffith.

Animal rights campaigners believe Australia's kangaroos are on the brink of extinction.

They dispute government figures that estimate there are about 25 million of these furry pouched creatures spread across the continent.

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