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Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 47 [54]

A  Mysterious Disease III

Photo: Ray Drew

(relax: she's only sleeping)

Almost as mysterious as the disease we have been discussing itself is the apparent reluctance of State and Commonwealth governments to spend much time or money looking into it. Lynda Staker, in her Macropod Husbandry, Healthcare and Medicinals, writes of a detailed report into the 1990 post flood die-off (Epidemic Mortality in Large Macropods of Central Queensland during May 1990) written by Professor Richard Speare (James Cook University), Peter Johnson (National Parks and Wildlife Service), and Timothy Pulsford (NPWS). The report, she says, ‘was inconclusive but suggested that the pathological changes detected in affected animals indicated a virus as the most likely cause.’  ‘Dr Speare requested funding to further their research,’ she says, ‘but this was not forthcoming by the Government. The report is quite comprehensive and it appears that a lack of funds hampered the continuation of this research.’

It’s a scenario that seems to have played out fairly consistently. Dr Greg Curran, who has featured in my previous posts on this mysterious disease, was one of the authors of a major report into the 1998 outbreak of post flood die-off in New South Wales (Investigation: Major Epidemic Mortality of Macropods in the Northern Part of Far Western NSW in October 1998) submitted to Government Agencies in October 1998.  Dr Curran and others again looked at the 2010 outbreak but were not able to stimulate and government funding or research.

Although the reason for this lack of interest in further governmental investigation of post flood die-off might still be seen as unclear, Lynda Staker does point to one key stakeholder. ‘Opinion from the Kangaroo industry at the time’, she writes, ‘was that the meat processors certainly wouldn’t want any negative results coming out of such research. It is on record that a departmental officer said at the time of the report, that if the pathology report hit the media it would put the industry backwards for 4 or 5 years.’ ‘If this pathology had been made known when it was compiled,’ she continues, ‘the kangaroo industry may not have continued until proper scientific evaluation was conducted, in order to ensure the industry’s safety.’

Nearly thirty years of independent concern over these mass deaths of kangaroos in the far west of Queensland and New South Wales and not a great deal seem to have changed.

‘Mr Curran,’ the 2016 ABC piece continues, concerning the post flood die-back outbreak of that year, ‘said he was surprised at the slow response from industry stakeholders, considering an action plan had been developed after the previous mystery death incidents.

‘One of the things I’m disappointed about is that, to date, none of the agencies responsible have been able to, or have been prepared to, investigate what’s going on with these animals,’ he said.

All the more reason then, to be very curious indeed concerning what appears to be the government-sponsored admission of and attention to – indeed gross exaggeration of – the disease at this time.  One would think that recurrent outbreaks of a mysterious disease killing hundreds of thousands (if not exactly millions) of kangaroos right in the culling/‘harvesting’ fields would be the last thing that those concerned to promote kangaroo meat abroad would want to see.

First the mystery of the millions of kangaroos missing without trace in outback New South Wales. Then the mystery of the very real disease that has been blamed for that disappearance. Now, perhaps, the most mysterious mystery of them all: the mystery of why any government should want to draw attention to – indeed fabricate/exaggerate – these things in the first place.

And here things are very unclear. All we have are speculations, but these are very interesting indeed. Has the NSW government realised that their estimations of kangaroo numbers have become so inflated that they need to find any excuses they can to reduce them? Has it finally admitted to itself that, despite all the reports it adduces that kangaroos are in plague proportions, roo shooters are finding kangaroos harder and harder to find, and is choosing to blame a mysterious disease rather than admit that kangaroo have in fact been being overhunted? But neither of these things, likely and plausible as each of them is, would quite explain why it is prepared to shoot the kangaroo-meat trade in the foot by revealing – indeed exaggerating – something its markets almost certainly would not want to hear. Has it, as another explanation runs, decided to sacrifice a too-problematic meat trade for what, after all, has been far more lucrative all along: the trade in kangaroo skins? Has it finally realised that post flood die-back is a serious problem that must be addressed if a kangaroo meat trade is to be developed? Is this ultimately good news for kangaroos or – historically much more likely – another devious gambit in the long war against them?

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