The cruel 'paradox' of kangaroos being crowned our national icon

A national poll shows the high regard Aussies have for the kangaroo but advocates argue we turn a blind eye when the native animal is treated like a pest.

Kangaroos have been voted the country's top national icon — ahead of contenders such as Vegemite and the Great Barrier Reef.

The findings come from a national poll released on World Kangaroo Day on Tuesday, which also reveals 98 per cent of respondents think kangaroos should be protected. But despite the native animals being highly regarded animal advocates say kangaroos actually face a sad reality.

'We must treat kangaroos better'

“The survey results are symptomatic of the paradoxical relationship our society has with kangaroos," Alyssa Wormald from Victorian Kangaroo Alliance told Yahoo News Australia.

The wildlife advocate believes Aussies do want the best for kangaroos and recognise their value as a symbol of the country, yet often "turn a blind eye when [they are] being treated like a pest".

"Just recently we have seen a case where a terrified kangaroo defending itself against a dog in Mildura was painted as the aggressor, whilst the irresponsible dog owner was lauded as a hero for striking it," Ms Wormald said, pointing to the discrepancy in how the native animals are perceived.

Left, kangaroo stands beside a construction site. Right, a kangaroo is stuck in barbed wire.
Kangaroos are under mounting pressure to move on from their land. Source: Zoe Schmidt and Rescue Rehabilitate Release

There are a myriad of ways in which kangaroos are facing mounting pressure, with property developers pushing kangaroos off their land resulting in increased vehicle collisions and kangaroos getting caught up in fencing.

"We are starting to see a national and international reckoning on the way we treat kangaroos ... [There is] the realisation that we must do better before it is too late."

Commercial kangaroo industry claims to uphold conservation

The most contentious treatment of kangaroos surrounds the commercial meat industry — with millions of roos killed every year for their meat and leather which is sanctioned by the Australian government. The industry is worth over $200 million to the Australian economy.

There is fierce debate between the kangaroo industry and wildlife advocates on the commercial trading of kangaroo meat, with the Kangaroo Industries Association of Australia (KIAA) disputing what they describe as "emotionally charged" claims from advocates and instead say the industry is good for overall conservation of the animal.

“In the absence of a commercial industry, conservation culling would still need to occur to manage the populations of certain species," KIAA President Ray Borda said in a statement. "A strictly regulated and ethical commercial industry has the ability to make use of kangaroos that would otherwise need to be discarded."

However, advocates claim this is a guise used by the industry to appease Aussies while many profit off killing the native animals.

Left, Diced kangaroo meat is packaged and available on supermarket shelves. Right, a kangaroo is pictured midjump.
The kangaroo meat industry is worth more than $200 million to the Aussie economy. Source: Getty

"There's no management involved in the commercial killing, let's be clear about that," Mick McIntyre, founder of animal advocacy group Kangaroos Alive told Yahoo News. "I think the commercial kangaroo industry have gotten away with lying to the Australian public that they're playing a part in the management of kangaroos."

"How dare they say that it's up to them to tell us how to manage our beautiful national icon... When you commercially trade wildlife, the wildlife always lose. They never win."

European Union 'shocked' by treatment of Australia's national icon

Mr McIntyre is currently in Brussels speaking to the European Union in a bid to create a bill to ban EU imports of kangaroo meat which would "cripple the industry".

"Members of the European parliament that responded were all deeply shocked at what we presented. We presented the images, and we presented the stark reality of what's going on with kangaroos in Australia," he said.

If the bill were to pass, the next step is to initiate a public discussion around how best to treat kangaroos, without those who "profit from their death" no longer in the driving seat. The survey in question is an indication of how the discussions may play out.

"I think the survey shows that it's a very noisy and a very barbaric minority of Australians that are treating the kangaroo so badly, and subjecting them to abject cruelty every day."

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