Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 28 
The Canberra Roos
Photo: Ray Drew
Shot under cover of darkness, buried in mass graves in the forest. But this isn’t Srebrenica in 1995, this isn’t Poland in 1942. The shooters aren’t rogue militants or members of the SS. They are sub-contractors paid by the government of the Australian Capital Territory, and the victims are not humans but a different species of animal. Many of them female, with, at foot or in the pouch, joeys who will be clubbed to death, decapitated, or otherwise summarily dispatched, if they are found at all.
David Brooks, ‘Roogate’, The Bungendore Bulletin (May 2016), read online version here.
The beginning of another year. And, in a few months’ time, the commencement of the tenth annual slaughter of kangaroos in the Australian Capital Territory. A sad anniversary and a deep national shame. The national icon, massacred each year in the federal capital – a dark pagan ritual, you might think, almost reminiscent of Wagner, were it not for one’s certainty (it has been demonstrated so often) that it is in fact a matter of ego, bureaucratic obstinacy, intellectual dishonesty. But I have argued these things before – the essay cited above – and don’t propose to go over them again.
The official reason given for this cull is that it is in the interests of biodiversity, that their overpopulation in the area is depleting the native grasses – the ‘biomass’ – and endangering, for example – depriving of habitat – such small reptiles as the grassland earless dragon, the striped legless lizard. Each year the A.C.T. government settles upon a number of kangaroos to be slaughtered, to maintain what it deems an appropriate population (last year it was 2,466; the year before around 3,500 – small numbers in the overall Australian slaughter figures, but huge as a proportion of the A.C.T. kangaroo population). But of course the city of Canberra has been relentlessly expanding for decades, taking over the kangaroos’ habitats, and the chief depletor of native grasses is without question the city itself. Even the A.C.T. government admits that. One could speculate that the real reason for the killing of the kangaroos is that, in the face of this reduction of habitat, they have begun to urbanise – what other choice have they had? – and to enter the suburbs, graze in the city parks, become a ‘threat’ to cars and bicycles on the streets and avenues and parkways, that the frequency of accidents caused by cars hitting or trying to avoid hitting kangaroos has increased; that they have become an urban problem; that humans can’t bear the sight of kangaroos dead or dying on their roads, the thought of possible damage to their vehicles, of possible injury to themselves. And as usual the easiest and most economical solution is killing. Rather than line the major avenues with fences, say, and create underpasses at the most frequent kangaroo crossing-points, or reduce the speed-limit on such roads, or embark upon an expensive program – they say that it is impossible but over and again they have been proven wrong – of relocating or de-sexing the animals. Better, after all, that thousands of kangaroos be slaughtered than a couple of humans be injured, or their cars be damaged.
These creatures, these individuals, with every bit as much right to be on earth, to live undisturbed on earth, as we claim for ourselves. Those who shoot them – who, according to instructions they have received from the desks of bureaucrats, select which ones are to be permitted to live and which are to die, who align within their sights those who have been selected, using the head or the chest as target, and who pull the trigger, who feel a sense of relief and achievement when the creature drops – or those bureaucrats who instruct them: how much do they know the creatures they kill, as individuals? Have they walked among them? Well, yes, some of them have, as they have counted them – the A.C.T. government has given ample explanations of how populations to be culled are counted (‘the five methods’), of how ‘target’ (yes, ‘target’) population-densities are determined – but that has not been for the purpose of, in fact has carefully avoided, contact. Have they sat amongst them? Have they learned to tell one of these kangaroos from another? Have they spent enough time and observation, say, to be able to tell one mature doe from another, one mature buck from his brother? Do they see any one of them as a being of existential intensity, alive in every fibre, with a character, desires, griefs, resentments, favourite foods, favourite places, good, better, best friends?
I think the answer is probably no; I think that the answer is that kangaroos – ‘wildlife’ – cannot be ‘managed’ if the relationship is ‘personal’ in this way – not meaning in any way, of course, if and when they use the term, to concede that the kangaroo can be a person. And what of the kangaroos themselves? How much contact have they had with humans? They may have been approached, occasionally, by some – a child, say, or a tourist, a bushwalker, a naturalist – but my guess is it’s never been with the patience, on that human individual’s side, to sit a whole hour, a whole afternoon, watching in silence, seeing, thinking, recognising: one living, intensely feeling Being being-with another. If there has been contact, before the shot that kills them, and other than with those who are counting them first, in order to determine how many of them are to be shot, then it is as likely as not to be shot in a different manner, which is to say darted, so that, temporarily narcotised, they can be investigated, manipulated, by scientists, naturalists, ecologists, wildlife managers. And then, of course, the shot, or series of shots, and the being, the existential reality, of twenty, or forty, or fifty-five per cent of them – whatever proportion has been determined in order to arrive at the ‘target’ population – will be removed, will cease. By night, in circumstances of great secrecy, to be buried in unmarked mass graves in the forest, as I have said.
I am not speaking of our right to do this. There is no right to do this. To turn to the life of another being and snuff it. Bad enough that we deprive them of homelands, confine them in special, fenced districts (‘Kangaroo Management Units’), herd and manipulate them at will. If anything I am speaking of the paucity of our imagination, the corruption of our ideas, the weakness of our conscience and political will. This is the country that came up with and made a reality of the Snowy Mountains Scheme – the world’s greatest engineering feat at the time – and yet all we can think of, when an ‘animal’ problem presents itself to us, is kill, kill, kill… There are other options; they are right before us! Why on earth have we not taken them?
The first of the annual A.C.T. culls was in 2009, as already stated, though arguably the opening shots had already been fired, when, despite an initial proposal, approved by the Commonwealth Department of Defence, to relocate some and sterilise others, the A.C.T. government, which clearly had other plans (i.e. an annual cull based upon the premise that relocation and sterilisation weren’t options), barricaded and shot 600 kangaroos on the Belconnen Naval Transmission Station (B.N.T.S.) grounds, in order to ‘clean’ the land for development. I leave you with some photos, again all courtesy of Ray Drew:
Kangaroos at the B.N.T.S. in the days before ‘culling’ began. In the background the hessian covered fence of the shooting compound may be seen.
Contracted employees, security guards and students driving the kangaroos into a killing circle. The open gate at the right allows a glimpse of the shooter crouched in a booth, head just visible.
Many of the doomed kangaroos lying on the ground from stress-induced exhaustion. A joey stands by its mother. They are all dead within the hour.
Ray and Carolyne Drew published a powerful piece (‘The Harvest’) about this early cull in Southerly 69.1 (2009), read online version here.