Debate over radical plan to farm kangaroos in Australia

Kangaroos would be farmed across Australia under a radical new plan advocates say would create income for landholders and better animal welfare outcomes.

While many farmers shoot macropods, like kangaroos and wallabies, to make way for livestock and crops, the proposal would see pastoralists paid to retain and “manage” them.

In an upcoming paper, Professor George Wilson from the Australian National University argues that the welfare of kangaroos would be improved if they were managed on properties alongside sheep and cattle.

Against a dry landscape, a kangaroo can be seen hopping past cattle.
Under the plan kangaroos would be farmed alongside traditional livestock. Source: Getty

When comparing kangaroos to livestock, Professor Wilson argues they eat less and are more environmentally beneficial, and advocates working with them, rather than eradicating them.

"Kangaroos don't produce methane. Why aren't we taking advantage of that?" he said.

"The amount of water that kangaroo needs per day is a fraction of the quantity... that cattle need."

Plan to trade kangaroos like water

Current legislation allows for wild kangaroos to be “harvested” for their meat and skins or culled as a so-called “pest”.

Like all wildlife in Australia, kangaroos are owned by the government, but Professor Wilson believes they would be better served if 90 per cent were handed to pastoralists.

“A proportion would pass to the landholder just as zoos and others currently are given a form of tenure over kangaroos," Professor Wilson said.

Kangaroos would not be confined to small, stressful enclosures, but instead allowed to roam within large fenced-off farms.

Under the plan, properties would hold kangaroo rights in a similar fashion to water rights, and these could be traded.

'Fundamentally flawed': Animal rights advocate slams plan

Professor Wilson argues kangaroo populations fluctuate, causing animal welfare issues, and outcomes could be improved if they were managed by farmers.

While the notion that kangaroo numbers becoming out of control is accepted by many farmers, governments and industry stakeholders, a large portion of wildlife advocates dispute it.

Right - a kangaroo against a fence. Right - a lion cub looks to camera.
Mark Pearson compared the idea of wild kangaroo farming to canned hunting. Source: Getty

Animal Justice Party MP Mark Pearson said the notion that kangaroos need to be culled by humans for their welfare is “fundamentally flawed”.

“So those poor kangaroos have been here millions of years, and they haven't worked out how to manage their own numbers, and they need us to come along?” he said.

Comparing the idea of farming kangaroos to failed African hunting programs, Mr Pearson said contained management for profit was “not in the best interest of protecting the species”.

“Basically you’d be heading towards the concept of canned hunting,” he said.

“That’s where you breed up and keep captive animals and then release them, or allow shooters to come on the property and kill a certain number.

“Farmers need to be educated in ways that live harmoniously with these animals.”

Exclusion fencing linked to animal welfare concerns

While kangaroo harvesting advocates and animal welfare campaigners appear to agree on very little, one thing both camps have voiced concern over is the impact of impenetrable exclusion fencing, which has been rolled out across vast areas of Queensland and parts of NSW.

Entire properties are now fenced off to protect livestock from native animals, blocking migratory pathways which have existed for thousands of years.

The Kangaroo Industry Association Australia, which manages the harvest of free-roaming animals, say they have “concerns” about the system's impact on wildlife welfare.

The group’s executive officer Dennis King told Yahoo News Australia he would like to see a “proper scientific survey” on how exclusion fencing impacts natural environments.

“It should cover the effect not just on (kangaroos)… but on all native wildlife down to lizards and whatever else, and how it has created a disconnect of traditional pathways that these animals would have moved between to go to watering points," he said.

“The industry takes very, very seriously its role in animal welfare.”

A kangaroo dead against an exclusion fence
Kangaroo harvesters have concerns about the impact of exclusion fencing. Source: Getty

Despite concerns about exclusion fencing within the industry, Professor Wilson believes if his plan is one day adopted, welfare issues could be improved.

“What we're suggesting is these fences which restrict the movements of kangaroos could actually be converted into an asset,” he said.

“They will establish some form of custodianship and ownership over the kangaroo population... increasing the returns that graziers get as thee animals move from being a pest to being an integral part of their production system.”

Kangaroo welfare considered by overseas markets

While Mr King doesn’t foresee Professor Wilson’s full plan being adopted in the immediate future, he believes the notion of paying farmers for the roos shot on their properties is on the cards.

“It’s a bit of a no-brainer, it's probably got to happen that way,” he said.

“We in the industry certainly support that idea because it gives the landholders a reason to want to look after kangaroos, and from an animal welfare point of view that’s great.”

As the industry continues to expand across the country, a plan to trial this system was proposed by a company working closely within the industry in November last year, but Yahoo News Australia understands it is yet to get underway.

Internationally, debate continues to address welfare concerns surrounding Australia's commodification of kangaroos, which constitutes the largest land-based slaughter of wildlife in the world.

How Australia continues to "harvest" kangaroos into the future remains to be determined.

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