Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 57 [44]

And now the Kimberley

The Cockburn Ranges and Pentecost Crossing, photo by MissMegido (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

First it was the Pilbara, two months ago – an item in the ABC News about the concern of the local indigenous populations that kangaroos were getting harder and harder to find – and now a piece on the same site attempting to answer a reader’s question as to ‘why there are no kangaroos in the Kimberley’. The reader has been going to the Kimberley for twenty years now, and has long wondered why he never sees roos.

The Kimberley is an area of 423,517km2 at the top of Western Australia, bordered on the west by the Indian Ocean, the north by the Timor Sea, the east by the Northern Territory, and on the south by the Pilbara. The Pilbara is just a touch over 500,000km2. Together they comprise just under two-fifths of the huge state of Western Australia.

But let me quote the article a little. ‘If you live or visit the Kimberley,’ it tells us,

you will likely spot euros — also known as wallaroos — and wallabies.

But you will not see a red kangaroo and you definitely will not find a western grey.

Technically, it is almost impossible to 100 per cent rule out the presence of red kangaroos in the area because the Kimberley has historically been omitted from aerial surveys and studies.

‘There is very little data on kangaroo numbers in the Kimberley at all,’ Dr Eldridge said.

‘It's quite a hard area to get into and survey. Certainly, anecdotally, and if you go up there you don't see nearly as many. There is no hard data that actually says there is a difference.’

 

Mandy Watson runs Kangaroo Haven in Kununurra in the east Kimberley, and rescues orphaned wildlife.

She has red kangaroos in her yard, but they have been flown up from other areas around Australia.

‘Our terrain isn't any good for the red kangaroo,’ she said.

More disappearing roos? What? According to the Western Australian government, that’s not the case. The kangaroos are there. It’s just that people aren’t seeing them. But I’ll come to that.

Let’s keep it straight. The person who has asked the question has simply stated that he has not seen kangaroos, and in layman’s terms we might assume he is not distinguishing between kangaroos and wallaroos. The journalist who attempts to answer the question, however, is being a bit more technical, and oblique. In telling us that visitors to the Kimberley are likely to see wallaroos she could even be said to dodge the question.  In effect she says we do see roos in the Kimberley, just not red kangaroos, and that last part may be true enough: in all indications of the distribution of red kangaroos that I have about me, it seems recognised that the upper two-thirds of the Kimberley are not part of their range (they are, however, a substantial part of the given range of the Antelopine kangaroo/wallaroo [the creatures within this species have been classified both ways]). The bottom third and the Pilbara, however, are another matter: not only are they given as red kangaroo range, but they are included within the state’s red kangaroo harvest area.

Perhaps we could turn to something like the 2017 Commercial Kangaroo Harvest Quota Submission for Western Australia for a few clues, at least as to how the state government has been seeing it. This submission – how to put this? – is full of curiosities and makes intriguing reading. I don’t have the room here to summarise it in full and must leave much to the reader. Suffice to say that it seems, on the one hand, to indicate that the harvesting of red kangaroos in Western Australia generally (but focussed in the northern and central zones) has dropped dramatically – to almost nothing in 2015 and 2016 – since the first years of this new century, and that, as if to pick up the slack, the harvest of western grey kangaroos (mainly in the southern zone) has dramatically increased.

To this layman this would suggest that red kangaroos have been becoming harder and harder to find. He might even find himself wondering, as the indigenous population of the Pilbara has been suggesting, that there has been some radical over-harvesting involved.

Curiously – another curiosity – (a) the numbers of kangaroos in the state overall seem to be remaining steady, and (b) the number of red kangaroos, at a record low in 2015, seems against all biological possibility to have doubled in 2016.

Hmmm. I think I’m starting to reach my own answer to the ABC’s questioner. But I am only a layman – with so much more I could say on this issue (try history, for example: George Grey, in his Journals of Two Expeditions of Discovery in North-west and Western Australia, During the Years 1837, 1838, and 1839 [1841], writes over and over again of the abundance of kangaroos) – but I’ll leave it there.

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