El Niño prompts concerns for growing kangaroo populations

Eric Barker, May 12, 2023
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THE kangaroo industry is calling for a renewed focus on managing populations, with dry weather forecast and a potential increase in numbers expected.

Kangaroo populations are known to boom in drought times, with the animals able to survive through tough conditions – which can lead to major animal welfare and pasture management problems.

Numbers have been down in recent years with three consecutive La Niñas bringing back a myriad of other species to landscapes in Queensland and New South Wales.

But with the formation of the traditionally dry El Niño weather pattern, Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia president Ray Borda said landholders should start thinking about kangaroo management.

“You get a real a boom and bust in the areas where there are a lot of kangaroos and now is a good time to start controlling numbers because they can get out of control quickly,” he said.

“With the numbers low at the moment I think a lot of landholders are not too worried. But we want them to be aware that numbers are likely to grow and landholders start taking care of populations now, it will be easier to manage in the future.”

One of the kangaroo industry’s main markets has also taken a hit in recent years, with Nike and Puma planning to phase out the use of kangaroo leather in its shoes – mostly replacing it with plastic.

“Kangaroo skins used to represent about 30pc of the turnover in the kangaroo market and now they represent about 2pc,” Mr Borda said.

Need for more kangaroo harvesters

While one of the main markets has taken a hit, Mr Borda said prices have remained high for the kangaroo industry – which has mainly been because of low supply.

“We pushed the price right up when the floods were happening everywhere, knowing roo shooters would leave the industry if we didn’t,” he said.

“Prices are going to ease now the numbers are going up, but I think it will still be a good time for shooters because there will be a lot more roos.

“We need more shooters and one of our biggest problems has been that when these floods come and numbers go down, a lot of people exit the industry. The kangaroo industry has always been like that.”

Mr Borda said the industry has made a lot of investment into smoothing out the boom-and-bust cycle of kangaroo harvesting – mainly through the construction of more chiller boxes.

“We have spent millions-of-dollars on putting more chillers in different parts of the country to give the industry more geographic diversity,” he said.

“The idea is that it will always be dry in some part of the country, which will give us access to more roos. But last year’s La Nina created flooding almost everywhere so it was really hard to keep up supply.”

Collective lobbying needed from cattle and sheep industry

Mr Borda said he was confident the market for leather could rebound with a number of other companies interested in kangaroo leather.

“Leather in general is going through a cycle where it is not as fashionable right now and that is mainly driven by opponents of animal protein,” he said.

“But those same people are climate activists and there is so much talk about recycling. With sensible harvest of kangaroos, populations replenish very easily and the product is very sustainable. I can’t see that argument falling in favour of the synthetic leather.

“We definitely have other companies interested, but the marketing efforts cost a lot of money. Nike and Puma used to buy everything and it was very easy that way.”

When kangaroo numbers are high, landholders can apply for a “mitigation permit”, where they can shoot the animals to manage numbers. Mr Borda said there was a need for the mitigation permits, but they have become a target for animal activists.

“Activists have been taking videos of non-commercial shooting, where animals are dead on ground, and taking it around the world saying, ‘this is the kangaroo industry’,” he said.

“But it is not true, because commercial shooters obviously take the carcases and have strict protocols on what they can or cannot shoot.

“We would really like to work closely with the sheep and cattle industry to minimise non-commercial shooting as much as possible. Because it is a waste and has been a target for activists.”

Mr Borda said the sheep and cattle industry should be prepared for more animal activist activity.

“The activists see the kangaroo industry as low hanging fruit, because we are not big and don’t have a lot of resources,” he said.

“We are just the start of what we are trying to achieve and I think it is an issue we could all work on together to resolve.”

Out of the square thinking needed

Western Queensland producer and Blackall/Tambo mayor Andrew Martin said the move away from kangaroo products in various parts of the world was putting producers in a tough position.

Like many in his area, he has constructed an exclusion fence around his property – which he said was the only way to stop kangaroos overpopulating the area.

“The only answer I can see for many of us to control grazing is to build exclusion fences and I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination,” he said.

“But there is a real burgeoning problem here with eastern greys not allowed to be taken in many areas and they breed like eastern greys. We will have a real issue with kangaroos in places where eastern greys are not allowed to be taken.

“My place is like many others and has water in areas that never had water on it before and it has provided a false environment for them – that’s why need to control populations.”

Cr Martin said he would be keen to see more commercial shooting in the area.

“We need some out of the square thinking when we are talking about commercialising the kangaroo industry,” he said.

“If it was made commercially viable to have a roo meat industry and pet food – it is also some of the best leather you could imagine – than people will have a good incentive to keep numbers a good level.

“Right now, we have only been encouraged to fence them in and shoot them.”





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