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Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 34 [67]

The Major Roos:

   The Forester

The Eastern Grey and the Western Grey kangaroos are the closest of cousins, yet sufficiently distinct from one another to be designated separate species. The Tasmanian Forester kangaroo (Macropus giganteus tasmaniensis), on the other hand, with less than 1% difference from the mainland Eastern Grey in terms of mitochondrial DNA (occasioned by its ten to fifteen thousand years separated from the Australian mainland), is designated as a subspecies.

Although it is currently listed as ‘not endangered’, the Forester is in fact lucky to be here at all, as we might extrapolate from the cartoon above, which depicts the Tasmanian Tiger (thylacine), the Tasmanian Emu and the Forester kangaroo fleeing hunters. Neither the Tasmanian Tiger nor the Tasmanian emu are any longer with us – at least, for there are occasional claims of thylacine sightings, not to the point where we can be sure that they are not extinct.

Just how close the Forester came is not clear. Some say it was down to the last fifteen percent, some say the last ten, some say the last five. Enough, in any case, to say with some accuracy, that it has been decimated by white/invader occupation (it currently occupies only one tenth of its pre-white-settlement range).

Plentiful in and around Risdon Cove at the time of settlement in 1803, the Foresters, after a first very difficult year, when many in the colony suffered from malnutrition, came very quickly to be hunted as food – indeed their use as such was ordered by the inaugural Lieutenant Governor. Very swiftly the colony, then Van Diemen’s Land, became so dependent upon kangaroos as a meat and leather source and means of barter/exchange that historians have come to refer to Tasmania’s ‘kangaroo economy’. Forced to go further and further afield for game, roo hunters in effect became significant agents in open up the Tasmanian landscape for the sheep and other ‘industries’ that would only add to the Foresters’ oppression. With disruption of habitat added to their hunted past, Forester numbers continued to decline, reaching their lowest point, according to the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service, in the mid twentieth century. From which, it would appear, in the grasslands of north-eastern Tasmania, they have begun to inch their way back.

It is a puzzling as it is sad to record, then, that, since the late 1970s, Foresters have been being culled (some 660/year since 2000) under state Crop Protection Permits issued by the Tasmanian Director of Parks and Wildlife. Why? Because, it would seem, a lot of the land they have retreated to and begun to recoup themselves upon is private, and they are felt to take grass that is not rightfully their.

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