Surprising outcome after kangaroos forced from home by developer

A mob of kangaroos was relocated from a development site. Yahoo News Australia reveals what happened next.

When developers want to build on land kangaroos call home there’s usually only one solution. Shoot the kangaroos.

But when a Melbourne company called in the guns three years ago, families living opposite the planned Kinley estate rebelled and ignited a media storm. Local kids made protest signs, penned letters and recorded videos calling on the government to stop the killing.

The result was the approval of the first official Victorian trial of kangaroo relocation. It was reported that the mob was successfully relocated to its new home and the noise died down. Most people thought that was the end of the story, but it wasn’t.

A kangaroo in the foreground. A development in the background. A fence in between them.
Kangaroos are usually shot when developers want to build on their homes. Source: Graeme Coulson

Since 2022, Yahoo News Australia had been hearing rumours many of the Kinley kangaroos had left their new home and died.

That wasn’t surprising — translocation remains highly controversial, and most state governments will not allow it. When done incorrectly it can trigger a stress-induced disease called myopathy which results in a slow painful death. The other problem with relocating kangaroos is that many property owners don’t like them, so finding a space to release them can be almost impossible.

Translocation results revealed

In May, the man behind Victoria’s translocation experiment, Melbourne University’s Associate Professor Graham Coulson presented the outcome of his trial.

Reflecting on the result, Dr Coulson told Yahoo News Australia he had wanted to achieve best practice and avoid the "alarmingly" poor results of some other experiments. He translocated 34 animals to a 521-hectare property located 12km away, but after a year only 40 per cent had survived. By 2023 the number had dropped to 38 per cent.

A green paddock with three collared kangaroos. It also includes the data of what happened to the kangaroos: * Six drowned. * Five died on the road. * Four were shot. * Two died in fences. * Two were euthanised due to preexisting injuries.  * Two are unknown.
Source: Graeme Coulson

Many of the kangaroos fled the property, and the dispersal rate is believed to be over 50 per cent. The team learned that females will disperse much further than they ever imagined and that the homing instinct can be quite strong. “One of them was seen pacing the fence and she couldn't work out how to get back in. And so she'd hang around the area and eventually got hit by a nearby road,” Dr Coulson said.

One male hopped a record-breaking 25km distance, but later died on the Burwood Highway.

A map showing the distances kangaroos travelled after leaving their new home.
Red dots indicate kangaroos that relocated from the translocation site but died, while green indicates survival. Source: Graeme Coulson

History of the Kinley kangaroos

How would the experiment be changed if it was repeated?

Because some of the kangaroos drowned immediately after they were set free, Dr Coulson would consider using a method called “soft release”. This would involve holding them in a small yard until the anaesthetic had completely worn off. But he's concerned confining them could trigger new welfare concerns.

“It could increase the chances of myopathy. So if they started showing behaviours, like throwing themselves at fences, then clearly you'd have to intervene and let them out anyway,” he said.

Would it be wise to repeat the experiment?

Dr Coulson’s answer to this question is complex. “I guess we could, but I would wonder whether we should,” he said. “They’re an abundant species so the only real reason to translate code would be an ethical welfare one. And if that's your reason, then you've got to look very carefully at the welfare impacts of doing this.”

Radio-collared kangaroos at a bush site with logs in the background.
Kangaroos were tracked using radio collars after release. Source: Graeme Coulson

Observers of the study would like to see a new translocation trial using soft release. Dr Elaine Ong from Vets for Compassion believes shooting kangaroos to make way for development is not a humane outcome, so other solutions must be found. “Despite the 50:50 results of the Kinley translocation, it paves the way for another translocation trial that can prevent the problems of the first,” she said.

Veteran kangaroo rescuer Manfred Zabinkas agrees. “This study offers hope for further research into successful kangaroo translocation. These trial results show significant improvement over previous attempts and lays a solid basis for further improvements on methodology.”

Advocacy group Victorian Kangaroo Alliance wants to see the government consider the impact of development on kangaroos before approving new projects. In particularly it wants to see wildlife corridors created and maintained, so wildlife does not become landlocked by development.

An upcoming trial in Western Australia is set to translocate up to 300 kangaroos.

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