Millions of kangaroos starving in drought sees western Qld harvest halted
Last week, the ABC obtained an email from the Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) announcing it would stop the harvesting of eastern grey kangaroos in an area between Richmond to Hughenden, south to the border, and across to Cunnamulla.
There would also be no shooting of common wallaroos for the central-southern zone.
Populations of eastern grey kangaroos have fallen below the trigger point of 983,316 and wallaroo populations have declined below 126,483 in the areas concerned.
"It's such a tough time and that's the bit that's disappointing to us," said Michael Guerin, the CEO of peak rural lobby group Agforce.
He criticised the 'blanket approach' by the Queensland Government and said kangaroo culling provided jobs to regional towns struggling with drought, a downturn in local economies, and decreasing populations.
"While across Queensland the numbers might say one thing, in certain patches kangaroo populations are still very strong," Mr Guerin said.
In a statement, Queensland's Environment Department said in instances where animals cause, or may cause, damage or loss, or represents a threat to human health or wellbeing, applications can be made for a Damage Mitigation Permit.
But Mr Guerin described the approach as "fundamentally wrong".
"Fill out another other set of forms if you feel like you have exemption," he said.
"That's not good enough.
"We have a number of unique regions with unique challenges, yet we have one rule placed across all of Queensland."
While commercial harvesting for 2020 has been stopped, the DES says landholders can still apply for Damage Mitigation Permits (DMPs) if they can demonstrate economic loss or impacts on human health and safety from wildlife.
DMPs are issued on a case by case basis, and the limit on kangaroos taken through these permits is capped at a maximum of two per cent of the Queensland kangaroo population.
Huge animal welfare issue
Australian National University Professor George Wilson has been researching and advising governments on kangaroo management for nearly 50 years.
He said millions of animals were starving across drought-affected regions of Australia.
"Numbers just go up, up, up, they get very high. Then when the droughts come they crash. And then we have a huge animal welfare issue at the same time," Dr Wilson said.
He said national estimates put the population of kangaroos at around 40 to 50 million — an increase in numbers aided by the growth of the sheep and cattle industries.
"All we can say with certainty is that everything that was done to the pastoral areas of Australia to improve capacity to carry sheep and cattle has also benefited the kangaroos," Dr Wilson said.
"We've encouraged grass by clearing, we've increased the amount of water, and we've removed the predators."
He said it was important to note that while drought was causing a collapse in kangaroo numbers, it had come off a high population.
"We're not taking it seriously, we're not planning to prevent it happening again, not even being told about it," Dr Wilson said.
Cancelling quotas will cripple towns
In western Queensland, a number of kangaroo shooters have told the ABC the move to cancel quotas for 2020 would cripple towns already struggling with drought and declining populations.
Others say that the move will encourage unregulated slaughter within many of the wild dog exclusion fences across the area.
"It's not the drought that is affecting the numbers of grey roos and wallaroos, it's not even the accredited wildlife harvesters that are having a major impact. It is the fences," one kangaroo shooter told the ABC.
The kangaroo shooters, who said they risk losing access to properties by speaking out, blamed mass culling of kangaroos inside cluster fences for the decline in numbers.
"All these fences going up and the inhumane culling of roos — there's a lot happening here and it's destroying the industry," another said.
"Now these bastards are starting to make out its the drought. The point is that if the fences were not up, the roos would move out of the area in search of pick," a third source said.
AgForce countered the claims.
"Exclusion fencing is as a very important part of good environmental biodiversity and economic outcomes across Queensland," Mr Guerin said.
A sustainable, high value product
Dr Wilson said managing Australia's kangaroo population was complex and required careful consideration by state leaders.
"The management of kangaroos gets pushed backwards and forwards between the environment side and the agricultural side," Dr Wilson said.
He advocated for changes which saw kangaroos that already grazed alongside sheep and cattle to be managed accordingly.
"It's just crazy not to integrate the management of kangaroos with these other requirements that we have put upon graziers," Dr Wilson said.
Australia's kangaroo industry has waned since Russia banned imports in 2014 after concerns about E. coli bacteria contamination.
Dr Wilson wants to see greater efforts to establish a market for what he says is an environmentally sustainable, high value product.
"We're not spending the money on research and development on kangaroos to increase their value, to what it really should be," he said.
"It's terrific meat. The skins have got the highest strength for weight of any. And they produce very little methane."