Fears beloved kangaroo will be killed for pet food on golf course

Michael Dahlstrom
·News and Video Producer
·5-min read

Residents living around a suburban golf course remain worried a beloved kangaroo and his mob will be shot for pet food.

The large male, known as Big Al, was treated by wildlife carers at Five Freedoms Animal Rescue in 2019 and released into bushland the following year near the Heritage Golf and Country Club at Chirnside Park in Melbourne’s outer east.

On Tuesday night, the golf course was surrounded by 60 to 80 protesters, including locals, vets and wildlife carers despite leaflets being distributed that morning, advising that a “kangaroo cull” was going ahead and that it was in residents “best interests not to be out after dark”.

Residents fear that Big Al will be targeted by shooters who are planning to 'harvest' kangaroos for their meat. Source: Supplied
Residents fear that Big Al will be targeted by shooters who are planning to 'harvest' kangaroos for their meat. Source: Supplied

As what appeared to be chiller trucks entered the grounds to transport the carcasses, and spotlights darted across the greens, Big Al’s former carer Manfred Zabinskas watched on, worried.

The boy he had nurtured back to health thanks to donations from the local community was in danger.

Loved by residents, Big Al even has his own calendar, but standing taller than Mr Zabinskas, it was feared that his gentle giant would be shot for the generous weight in meat.

Left - The Heritage golf course front gate. Right - A carer massaging Big Al's head.
Residents remain frightened that Big Al (right) will be shot by Heritage golf club. Source: Supplied

“Big Al would be the absolute, easiest target for the shooters, he’d just stand there, there’s no way he’d run off,” Mr Zabinskas said.

“He’s so familiar with cars and people that he would have no flight response whatsoever, so we’re terrified he might end up being in their sights.”

Shots ring out across the hills

“Mayhem” broke out as loud "bangs" cracked in the surrounding hills after 8pm, leading to fears the cull was underway.

Protesters from animal rights groups including Melbourne Hunt Saboteurs (MHS) and Vegan Rising, stationed themselves across the hills ready to put their bodies between the kangaroos and the shooters.

An image taken of the golf course at night showing two kangaroos in the spotlight.
Activists stood ready to put themselves between the shooters and the kangaroos. Source: Andrew Wallis

A spokesperson from MHS who asked to remain anonymous said he was there to support the local mums and dads living around the golf course who had seen the kangaroos survive drought and bushfire and were upset they were now being killed.

“We’re prepared to wait it out until they give up, doing so in a non-violent, non-aggressive way,” he said.

“It can be a bit dangerous, as people don’t normally want to confront men with guns, but it’s usually very peaceful because they can’t shoot around you.

“If they don’t crack their guns open they’re in a world of trouble.”

'Very upset' about cull of 'much loved group' of kangaroos

Wildlife Victoria’s CEO Lisa Palma spoke to Yahoo News Australia as she travelled down to the golf course after being alerted to the cull by frustrated local residents and charity Vets for Compassion.

“Everyone is incredibly upset, I’m very upset,” she said, describing the kangaroos as a “much loved group”.

“It’s our understanding they are going to be killed for pet food, and we are particularly devastated worrying about Big Al and the outcome for him.”

Left - A carer and Big Al lying on hay. Right - Big Al's paw and a human hand coming together.
Much of Big Al's care to fix his would was funded by the community where he lives. Source: Five Freedoms Animal Rescue

Residents told Yahoo News Australia that they had met with Heritage staff earlier that day asking them to stop the cull, but said their pleas were ignored.

It wasn’t until protesters and police gathered to resist the slaughter that news came through it had been postponed.

MP urges golf course to investigate non-lethal solution

This morning, calls to Heritage Golf and Country Club have gone unanswered, but residents told Yahoo News Australia they are hopeful of another meeting with management.

Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick said he remains worried about the future of the kangaroos at the golf course and across Victoria, and he will be speaking to the government to try and get them to intervene.

Protesters holding signs at the golf course last night.
A protest outside the golf course saw the shooting suspended. Source: Jacquie Withers

“Why would you just automatically reach to just killing them, why would you not investigate other things?” he said.

“This situation took everybody by surprise, it was sprung on us all late yesterday afternoon and yesterday evening.

“It’s that suddenness which has outraged the community.

“The proprietor of the golf course and perhaps the government even too have really misread the room on this, the population of Victoria want to see kangaroos protected not shot.”

Department confirms authorisation in place for 'harvest' to go ahead

Mr Meddick now fears that under the Victorian government’s expanded kangaroo pet food “harvesting” program, announced in January, landholders will now be able kill kangaroos on their land without having to apply for permits, known as ACTWs.

Someone painting a protest sign saying Save Our Kangas.
An estimated 60 to 80 people protested the planned 'harvest'. Source: Jacquie Withers

Wildlife carers who attended the protest last night said they expect increasing community outrage about the harvesting program, as a large number of the state's remaining kangaroos live close to national parks and state forests. 

The department of agriculture, which manages kangaroo harvesting in Victoria did not respond directly to questions about how parents living close to harvesting areas should respond to questions from their children about the planned kangaroo cull.

A mother and her joey the morning after plans to shoot them were abandoned.
A mother and her joey the morning after plans to shoot them were abandoned. Source: Ross Spyrio

They confirmed authorisation remains in place for the shooting to go ahead and issued a statement.

“Landholders or their managers can engage professional wildlife controllers to reduce kangaroo numbers as long as authorisations are in place,” a spokesperson wrote.

Wildlife groups continuing to monitor the situation say they are concerned the shooters will return.

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