Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 72 
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
I am not in any way comfortable advocating the killing of kangaroos, whatever the circumstance. In a sense, the whole point of these one hundred posts has been to probe for alternatives – ways out of – the killing mentality that seems so entrenched in the Australian mind that one might speak of it as a national psychosis. But nor am I very comfortable with prolonging deep suffering when it is already being experienced and where there is no prospect of its amelioration.
One of the pastoralists attempting to draw media attention to what he and others clearly see as an emerging drought in far west New South Wales (see ‘Drought I’, day 67 ) speaks of the distress he feels at seeing kangaroos dying, in great pain, of starvation. He would ‘put them out of their misery’ – shoot them – but the government requires that (a) he do so with a .222 calibre rifle or larger, and that (b) he then attach a ‘drop tag’ to the animal. ‘Most of the time’, he says, ‘I don’t have a drop tag or my .222 with me, and even if I did, shooting a roo at point blank range with a .222 is literally “overkill” and not particularly safe.’ Instead, it seems – and distressing as it is to see their suffering – he leaves these kangaroos to their pain.
Leaving aside that strange reference to ‘overkill’, I find it puzzling – bewildering in fact – that a pastoralist would not, knowing that it is a time of emerging drought and that he/she is likely to see extreme and apparently un-relievable suffering as he/she moves about his/her property, make a habit of carrying his/her .222 rifle and a number of drop tags. But, of course, I am not a pastoralist, do not have a pastoralist’s experience, cannot speculate upon a pastoralist’s motives...
Those last paragraphs must seem an odd approach to so large a matter as the situation of kangaroos in times of drought. I’ve written them because I’ve felt I had to, and could find no way of by-passing them. If we can take anything from them it’s that simple but very hard fact that, in times of drought, many many kangaroos will die, in great agony. That a great many more may be dying, at such times, because of human intrusion – because there is very little of the country left that is not fenced and ‘owned’ – is a situation we may never be able to change very much, let alone reverse, but most certainly it’s a situation we could manage better.
In this regard, the aforementioned pastoralist and I are – could be described as being – ‘on the same page’, albeit at opposite ends of it and facing in quite opposite directions. It is his point that far larger numbers of kangaroos should be killed ‘humanely’ – i.e. shot, whether by commercial ’roo shooters or by pastoralists themselves – than are currently being killed according to existing practices and government quotas. This in order that (a) there be considerably less kangaroos to be affected by drought, when drought occurs: ideally that there be so many less kangaroos that those that remain will have enough forage to be able to survive the drought, and that (b) the flesh of these kangaroos not be wasted, as it is now, with these drought-affected creatures left to rot where they lie, when, better managed, their flesh might be being on-sold.
Not a very surprising position, but of course (to look at only one area of its problems) it strays into that extremely foxed and complex area of Kangaroo Management Policy – as hard to get out of as the Sargasso Sea – and will encounter such operational difficulties as (say) the steep decline in the number of professional roo shooters in NSW from 900 in 2010 to 380 in 2017, and the mysterious reasons for that decline (is it the price they get for the meat? something to do with the male only shooting policy? the declining mean size of kangaroos? the increasing difficulty of finding kangaroos to shoot? etc.), widespread anomalies in the estimation of roo numbers, the difficulties of establishing, let alone supplying, new markets for kangaroo flesh, particularly in the face of growing social opposition, etc. etc.
I could go on, but of course my main opposition to this position is that it is yet again a matter of killing, of slaughter, as if there could be no possible alternative. Perched as we are at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is as if, in this regard, we can’t pull our minds out of the stone age.
I admit that finding a truly humane way of helping kangaroos through times of drought – a way that does not revert to the default position of killing them at the time or in preparation for the time – may be a monumental task, but we’re a country of immense resources, physical, economic and intellectual. If we can’t use them – and it would only take a small portion of them (as compared to the miniscule portion currently devoted to wildlife care) – to find a better, non-lethal way to get along with our native animals, then heaven help us all.