Each year over three million kangaroos are ‘harvested’ and over a million joeys are killed as part of the commercial industry, it is the largest land-based slaughter of wildlife in the world. After recoiling from the horror of discovering this information I asked Voiceless, an independent non-profit think tank dedicated to alleviating the suffering of animals in Australia, to explain what this really means and how in fact the kangaroos are harvested . Head of Corporate and Communications at Voiceless, Dr Annemarie Jonson writes
With the tragedy of the Queensland floods last month, you may have seen this photo of Ipswich father of five, Ray Cole risking his life to carry an injured joey to safety. Ray was quoted in the Herald Sun as saying he “couldn’t stand there and watch our coat of arms just drown”.
The beautiful photo nabbed media coverage worldwide, and it’s no wonder why. The picture speaks volumes about the best aspects of the human spirit, it paints the proverbial ‘1000 words’ about Australia and who and what we are. Ray’s act of compassion has won him awards and a slew of media interviews. Unfortunately however, the way we treat kangaroos normally is a far cry from our symbolic love for our coat of arms. While Ray couldn’t stand to see our national symbol suffering, other joeys and kangaroos are not so lucky.
Between three to four million kangaroos and wallabies are killed in Australia each year for meat, pet food and leather. That makes it the biggest slaughter of wild animals in the world, far worse than Canada’s infamous harp seal slaughter.
Like the seal trade, it’s brutal, but it happens away from our view, at night in the bush. According to the law, adult kangaroos should be killed by a single shot to the brain. But in reality, many are injured in the neck or the body, and flee into the bush where they die slowly and painfully.
What’s even less known is the terrible fate of joeys, just like the one Ray waded into turbulent flood waters to save: over a million a year are killed each year along with their mothers. How? The hunter stomps on the pouch joey’s head, or bludgeons him or her with a metal pipe. This is enough to make you think twice about ever putting roo on the menu. The young outside the pouch are shot through the heart or head. And no, they’re not doing something illegal. These are the methods that our laws allow. In an effort worthy of Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass, where words mean “just what we choose them to mean”, our lawmakers call this ”humane”. So much for respecting our national symbol, let alone showing basic human decency to defenceless young animals.
Of course, we all know the drill. Running side by side with all the talk of our beloved “national symbol” is the theme that kangaroos are a pest. Wrong.
Kangaroo populations vary according to the climate. For example, during drought, their numbers drop dramatically, while after heavy rains, they increase. Because the numbers of kangaroos are so variable, there’s a risk of over-exploitation when there is a natural decline.
Then there’s all the environmental noise about how they are a “clean, green” source of meat. Wrong again, on both counts. Eating kangaroo will never replace conventional farming of sheep and cows, with all the problems that that system causes, such as land degradation and greenhouse gases. Looking at an average number of kangaroos over 30 years, there are about 27 million kangaroos available for meat production. For each roo-steak loving Australian to be able to eat just one meal of roo per week, we’d need to kill 22 million a year. But there would need to be 151 million kangaroos to support this so-called “off-take”. There just aren’t that many kangaroos. The numbers don’t add up.
As for the “clean” part, forget it. E. coli, salmonella and other nasty bacteria which pose a real threat to human health are frequently found in roo meat. This is due to unhygienic conditions of the “harvest”, transport without refrigeration, and low standards of hygiene in the chillers in which the shot-up kangaroos are stored. Russia, formerly Australia’s biggest market for kangaroo meat, was so concerned about this that it recently banned imports indefinitely.
To top it all off, there’s the simple fact that kangaroos, like us and our pet dogs and cats, are living, breathing sentient beings with feelings, minds and complex social structures including deep mother-infant bonds. If it was a sack of potatoes Ray was hauling out of troubled waters the photo would have sunk without a trace. Maybe keep this in mind the next time the kangaroo meat brigade urges you to throw a roo steak on the barbie.
Have you ever eaten kangaroo? Would you? Is it just another protein source or is it an iconic Australian animal that should be protected?