Legislation that protects kangaroos, wallabies and other macropods is urgently required. We must work to counter the misinformation from those with commercial interests so that kangaroos are valued for their intrinsic worth. We must help secure their basic needs and interests, instead of seeing them as resources or pests.
A female kangaroo with a joey’s head poking out of the pouch is remarkable. A single kangaroo bounding across the land is spectacular. A mob of kangaroos bounding together is breath-taking.
“Kangaroo” refers to any of six species; the Eastern Grey, Western Grey, Red and Common Wallaroo or Euro, but also the less common Black Wallaroo and Antilopine Wallaroo. Marsupials are found in Australasia and the Americas but kangaroos are only found in Australia. They are quintessential and iconic Australians.
Australia is the driest, inhabited continent and our marsupials have evolved with the land and climate. Kangaroos appeared in Australia 25 million years ago and evolved to our modern kangaroos by about 3 million years ago through adaptation to the changing climate and environment, especially to the formation of grasslands.
Three features distinguish macropods from other marsupials allowing them to adapt to the environment and climate, including cycles of drought and restricted resources: foregut fermentation, hopping and embryonic diapause (delaying the final stages of embryo development until environmental conditions are optimal). Gestation and birth naturally occur at times that are optimal for mother and offspring.
Kangaroos are the only large mammal to develop bipedal movement, and the hopping action is one of their most distinctive features. Hopping is incredibly energy efficient in kangaroos allowing them to travel long distances to find food and water. A dog chasing a kangaroo at near top speed (35km/hr) will use almost twice the amount of oxygen used by the kangaroo.
These special features allow kangaroos to survive Australia’s cycles of long and severe droughts and to traverse long distances to find resources. Kangaroos have adapted to habitats such as grasslands, grassy woodlands, open forests and deserts. These habitats are their home.
Female kangaroos have the capacity to have three young of different ages simultaneously: a joey at-foot (out of the pouch, but returning for milk), a small pouch-young joey and an embryo in waiting in the uterus. This makes reproduction heavily controlled by the changing environment. Most can be continuous breeders when environmental conditions are optimal and opportunistic breeders at other times. But the grey kangaroos are seasonal breeders. Like other animals, the reproduction of all the kangaroo species will be interrupted or halted if environmental conditions are particularly harsh.
Two main factors that control herbivore populations in all ecosystems are resource availability and predation,
and in Australia each of these factors has been disturbed by European settlement.
Large herbivores are controlled by the apex predator and kangaroos were once controlled by the dingo which has occupied this significant ecological niche in Australia for between 4,600 and 18,300 years. The dingo is distinct from the domestic dog in behaviour, morphology, genetics and molecular biology. Over the last 100-150 years, the dingo has been excluded from areas of Australia by barrier fences to protect livestock. Large carnivores are important for ecological balance and biodiversity, and their removal triggers a multitude of changes through all levels of the ecosystem (a trophic cascade), including herbivore populations, the rise of other predators, changes to vegetation type and quality, and soil nutrients. Some ecologists are calling for a the removal of these exclusionary fences.
Australia has lost at least 40% of its forests since European colonisation, and what remains is mostly fragmented. So, resource availability for kangaroos has been greatly altered in Australia with loss of habitat through land-clearing, logging and agriculture, and the introduction of artificial water sources causingkangaroos to migrate to find resources. Climate change through human activity (climate damage) has had further detrimental impacts on the environment, resources and is an existential threat to all species.
In Australia kangaroos are seen as a resource and a problem. However, an independent review of the industry concluded that it is unsustainable, cruel and requires legal reform.
Kangaroos are culturally, socially, and spiritually significant to Australia’s first nation peoples. They are appalled by, and opposed to, the “mass slaughter” of kangaroos that is sanctioned by Australian governments.
Internationally, Australia is under scrutiny and criticism for the methods by which kangaroos are hunted and shot under the label of “wildlife management”, then processed for various commercial products for national and international markets. Australia’s kangaroo killing is the largest hunt of a land-based animal on the planet and is particularly hypocritical given our objections to whale and seal hunting. Only a few Australian conservation organisations have programs to protect kangaroos.
The brutality observed in killing kangaroos in the ACT was pivotal in the formation of the party in 2010. Since then, we have continued to campaign against cruelty to these animals. During elections, we put pressure on other parties to oppose the slaughter.
Our NSW MP, The Hon Mark Pearson MLC in NSW has a long history as a thorn in the kangaroo industry’s side. He frequently advocates for kangaroo protection in the NSW Parliament and has called for a government inquiry into their slaughter using first hand evidence. He is challenging the governments narrative of overbreeding to plague proportions when, in fact, kangaroos are migrating from drought-affected regions. Mark has worked with other campaigners to educate the world regarding Australias treatment of the kangaroo. They successfully convinced importers like Russia and the state of California to stop buying kangaroo products due to numerous ethical and health concerns associated with their origins. Much of this work is documented in the award-winning film Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story. The AJP is committed to protecting kangaroos and our work is ongoing while misinformation and hatred towards them is perpetuated by the media and other political parties.
About the only thing worse than demonising and hunting an animal with callous indifference to its suffering is doing it when almost nobody likes the meat. If any significant proportion of Australians liked kangaroo meat, there would be none left for export. But kangaroo meat is so unpopular that the small amount produced has to be exported to about 60 countries. The industry is engaged in a never ending battle to find new customers who’ve never eaten its product before. There is almost no repeat business.