Australia's iconic kangaroos are hunted in the largest commercial slaughter of land-based wildlife on the planet.1 Almost 90 million kangaroos and wallabies have been lawfully killed for commercial purposes in the last 20 years.2
The commercial killing of kangaroos is a multi-million dollar meat and skin industry3 and the largest slaughter of land-based animals in the world.
Four species are killed by the industry– the Red kangaroo, Eastern and Western Grey kangaroo and the Common Wallaroo.
In 2016 the Australian government allowed up to 7.4 million kangaroos and wallabies4 to be commercially hunted. A large percentage of kangaroo meat and skins are exported around the world, including Europe, Asia and the USA. Russia banned imports in 2014 due to unacceptable levels of E.Coli.
The kangaroo industry is accepted because of a perception that kangaroos are an overpopulated 'pest'.5
Pest or precious?
The question as to whether kangaroos are a 'pest' or 'overpopulated' has been hotly debated. Kangaroos are native animals who have adapted uniquely to the Australian landscape. Their ancient ancestor has been traced back 24 million years to the Palaeopotorous—the starting point of all known kangaroo species.
Despite being a native animal, many farmers consider kangaroos to be 'economic' pests because of competition with cattle and sheep. According to a 2011 report by THINKK, the think tank for kangaroos, the notion of kangaroos as pests has been significantly overstated. Research suggests kangaroos do not exist in abundance or pest proportions and that the cost to farmers should be revised down from $200 million to $44 million, or $1.67 per kangaroo per year.
The other justification for the kangaroo industry is overpopulation. However, survey methodology has been questioned and, according to leading kangaroo scientists, the populations of different kangaroo species go up and down in natural patterns, influenced by weather, environmental conditions, birth rate and other factors.
Kangaroo killing for commercial and non-commercial purposes (eg damage mitigation and recreational hunting) may also threaten the survival of some species. Shooters hunt outside the sanctioned areas and kill species other than those permitted under specific licences.6
Welfare of kangaroos and joeys
Kangaroos are social animals who live in large groups called mobs.15 Mothers and joeys (young kangaroos) form close bonds and communicate with each other using unique calls.16 Studies show that female Eastern Grey Kangaroos recognize the individual voices of their young, and mothers and daughters maintain long-term bonds.
Kangaroos are shot in the wild, in often extremely remote locations and at night,9 when they are most active. Without independent oversight, issues of non-compliance, welfare and potential cruelty are not able to be addressed.
The Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare concluded in its 1988 report into the killing of kangaroos that, "to some extent, cruelty to kangaroos has become institutionalised through the system of kangaroo management."17
While shooters are required by Commercial and Non-Commercial Codes of Practice10 to aim to shoot a kangaroo in the brain and therefore achieve an instantaneous death,18 many factors affect the ability of a shooter to achieve this.12
Non-fatal body shots are an inevitable part of the industry, with the potential to cause painful injuries, prolonged suffering and a slow death. Data collected from meat processing plants by RSPCA Australia in 2002 suggest that 4% of kangaroos were mis-shot, while Animal Liberation NSW data from chillers (holding facilities for carcasses) suggest that 40% of kangaroos may have been mis-shot between 2005 and 2008.13 The lack of industry monitoring makes it difficult to establish more accurate figures.
A former commercial kangaroo shooter decribes a shoot: "The mouth of a kangaroo can be blown off and the kangaroo can escape to die of shock and starvation. Forearms can be blown off, as can ears, eyes and noses. Stomachs can be hit expelling the contents with the kangaroo still alive. Backbones can be pulverized to an unrecognisable state etc. Hind legs can be shattered with the kangaroo desperately trying to get away on the other or without the use of either. To deny that this goes on is just an exercise in attempting to fool the public."14
Joeys as collateral damage
In reality, the death of joeys is 'collateral damage' to the killing of female kangaroos. According to Australia's National Code of Practice, female kangaroos with joeys (both pouch-young and young-at-foot) are meant to be avoided in the kill but this is voluntary, not compulsory. Shooters must 'euthanase' the joeys of any female that is killed by using the following methods:
- for a small furless pouch young, a 'single forceful blow to the base of the skull' or 'stunning, immediately followed by decapitation';
- for furred pouch young, a 'single forceful blow to the base of the skull'; and
- for young at foot, a 'single shot to the brain or heart where it can be delivered accurately and in safety'.17
Dependent joeys who are not caught and killed in accordance with the Codes of Practice will likely die as a result of starvation, exposure or predation without their mothers to teach them vital survival skills such as finding food, water and shelter.18 On a 10 year average, it is estimated that 800,000 dependent joeys are killed as collateral damage of the kangaroo industry each year.19
RSPCA Australia reviewed the Codes of Practice in 2002 and recommended that they include a condition to stop the shooting of females who are carrying pouch young.20 This, it believes, is the only way to stop the potential of cruelty to the pouch young.21
Watch a presentation on the kangaroo industry by Keely Boom, previously a research fellow with THINKK, the think tank for kangaroos, and an expert in animal law and environmental law. Filmed at Voiceless's 2012 Animal Law Lecture Series.
- Watch the groundbreaking 2018 documentary Kangaroo
- Open letter from NGOs, including Voiceless, here http://www.kangaroomatters.org/
- Download the 2012 report from THINKK, 'Kangaroo Court: Enforcement of the law governing kangaroo killing'.
- Comprehensive resources are available from THINKK, the think tank for kangaroos, previously based at the University of Technology Sydney and supported by Voiceless.
- Read Ondine Sherman's Op-Ed on the subject
- Read Voiceless director, Deidre Wick's, column "Cute baby seals and kangaroo pests"
Last updated September 2018
- 1. Rheya Linden, ‘Killing for the Flesh and Skin Trade: Neither Clean & Green, nor Sustainable’ in Maryland Wilson and David B. Croft (eds), Kangaroo Myths and Realities (Australian Wildlife Protection Council, 3rd ed, 2005) 86.
- 2. Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Kangaroo Statistics (6 January 2012) http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/wildlife-trade/wild-harvest/k....
- 3. John Kelly, Kangaroo Industry Background (March 2013) Kangaroo Industries Association of Australia.
- 4. Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Wild Harvest of Australian Native Animals, http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/wildlife-trade/natives/wild-h....
- 5. Tony Pople and Gordon Grigg, Commercial Harvesting of Kangaroos in Australia (1999) Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/wildlife-trade/publications/k...
- 6. Morris v Department of Environment and Climate Change  NSWLEC 309.
- 15. D Ben-Ami, A Shot in the Dark: A Report on Kangaroo Harvesting (2009) 34.
- 16. C Hugh Tyndale-Biscoe, Life of Marsupials (CSIRO Publishing, 2005) 329.
- 9. Glenys Oogjes, ‘Band-Aid Code Will Not Stop Joey Cruelty - Only an End to the Practices Will Do That’ in Maryland Wilson and David B. Croft, above n 1, 110.
- 17. a. b. Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare, Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, Kangaroos (1988) [8.2]. Further, one of the six members of the Committee published a minority report in which he concluded, “For the welfare of the kangaroos, the industry should be closed…. The welfare of the kangaroo, our national animal, must be placed ahead of commercial interests and inept bureaucrats. The present slaughter must cease.” (Senator Norm Sanders, 201-203)
- 10. National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Commercial Purposes (2008); National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Non-Commercial Purposes (2008).
- 18. a. b. Ibid, s 2.4, ‘Point of aim’ and ‘Goal’.
- 12. Factors include impaired vision due to darkness and distance, weather conditions, the small target size of a kangaroo’s head, unexpected movements of kangaroos who are startled from being shot at, and the skill and experience of the individual shooter. David Nicholls, ‘The Kangaroo – Falsely Maligned by Tradition’ in Maryland Wilson and David B. Croft, above n 1, 38.
- 13. Ben‐Ami D, Boom K, Boronyak L, Townend C, Ramp D, Croft D, Bekoff M, ‘The welfare ethics of the commercial killing of free-ranging kangaroos: an evaluation of the benefits and costs of the industry’ (2014) 23 Animal Welfare 1, 5. The difference in the RSPCA Australia and Animal Liberation NSW estimates is due to differences in sampling methodology. Animal Liberation NSW sampling was based on whether the head was severed at or below the atlantal-occipital joint, which is reportedly the most efficient point to sever a kangaroo’s head. RSPCA sampling was based on bullet entry points in carcasses. See also Ben‐Ami D, Boom K, Boronyak L, Croft D, Ramp D, Townend C, The ends and means of the commercial kangaroo industry: an ecological, legal and comparative analysis (THINKK, UTS, 2011) 3, 16-17.
- 14. David Nicholls, ‘The Kangaroo – Falsely Maligned by Tradition’ in Maryland Wilson and David B. Croft, above n 1, 38.
- 19. See Ben-Ami D, Boom K, Boronyak L, Townend C, Ramp D, Croft D and Bekoff M, ‘The welfare ethics of the commercial killing of free ranging kangaroos: an evaluation of the benefits and costs of the industry’ (2014) 23(1) Animal Welfare 1, 5. Estimation based on ecological data and national commercial kill statistics for the period 2000-2009. This does not include the joeys killed as a consequence of non-commercial shooting. Numbers of joeys killed or left to die are not recorded. Accordingly, figures are a 10 year projection based on the authors’ calculations (methods outlined in the article) and the national commercial kill statistics provided by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Population and Communities in 2010.
- 20. RSPCA, Kangaroo Shooting Code Compliance – A Survey of the Extent of Compliance with the Requirements of the Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos (2002) para 5.2.2.
- 21. Ibid.