The Australian Government and the kangaroo industry would like you to believe that the practice of killing kangaroos is humane and beneficial, even to kangaroos. Let’s see for ourselves.
The following instructions on how to euthanise young kangaroos is taken from the National Code of Practice for the Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Commercial Purposes produced by the Australian Government:
Euthanasia of partially-furred to fully-furred pouch young
Concussive blow to the head
* The most suitable method that is currently available for the euthanasia of partially-furred to fully-furred young is a concussive blow to the head (also called blunt force trauma). This method is considered acceptable as the skulls of pouch young are small, soft and thin. When it is applied correctly, unconsciousness and death will occur rapidly.
* A single sharp blow to the central skull bones induces death by physical (or mechanical) damage to the central nervous system and disruption of brain activity. Death then occurs as a result of respiratory and cardiac failure.
* The efficiency and humaneness of this method depends on the operators’ skill and determination. The concussive blow must be delivered with sufficient force and be precisely on target to ensure that adequate damage occurs to vital structures of the brain to cause immediate and sustained unconsciousness and death.
* If this procedure is not performed correctly there will be varying degrees of consciousness and it is likely that the animal will suffer prior to death. If the first blow does not hit the skull but hits for example, the jaw or a limb, or if the brain is not sufficiently destroyed, then the animal will experience pain and distress.
* To deliver the concussive blow, remove the young from the pouch, hold the young firmly by the hindquarters (around the top of the back legs and base of tail) and then swing firmly and quickly in an arc so that the joey’s head is hit against a large solid surface that will not move or compress during the impact (e.g. the tray of a utility vehicle).
* DO NOT hit the joeys’ head against the railing of the utility rack, as this can result in decapitation rather than the intended concussive blow to the head.
* DO NOT suspend joeys upside down by the hindquarters or tail and then try to hit the head with an iron bar (or similar). Holding them in this manner allows the joey to move around and makes it difficult to make contact with the correct location on the head. In addition, the force of the blow may not be sufficient to render the joey unconscious with only one strike.
* Confirmation of the onset of death should occur immediately after the procedure and death must be confirmed within 3 minutes.A combination of all of the following criteria is the most reliable for confirming death:
– No heartbeat
– No breathing
– No corneal reflex (no blinking when the eyeball is touched)
– No response to a toe pinch (a firm squeeze of the pad on the large toe).
* An animal is still conscious (sensible) and may be suffering if it is vocalising, attempts to get up, lifts up its head or is blinking.
* If onset of death or death cannot be confirmed, the procedure must be repeated (i.e. apply another blow) or a secondary method of euthanasia (i.e. bleeding out by cutting the carotid arteries and jugular veins in the neck, or decapitation) applied if the animal is stunned (or unconscious).
* Death must be confirmed before leaving or disposing of the carcass.
2.2 Harvesters must aim to shoot target kangaroos and wallabies in the HEAD (so as to destroy the vital areas of the brain) as shown in Figure 1: Shot placements for targeted kangaroos and wallabies (in Appendix 4: Standard operating procedure for the shooting of kangaroos and wallabies)
2.3 Target animals must be clearly visible, stationary (wounded or injured animals excepted), and standing upright.
2.4 When target animals are shot from a vehicle, the vehicle must be stationary.
2.5 No more than 3 target kangaroos or wallabies in a group can be shot before the carcasses are checked and retrieved by the harvester.
2.6 If there is any concern that the shot animal has only been wounded and not killed, then no further animals can be shot until all reasonable efforts have been made to locate and euthanase the wounded animal.
The Code of Practice is meaningless as no one monitors or polices the hunting of kangaroos. We spent 12 months telephoning the police when hunters targeted kangaroos in and around our property. On 15 December 2019, a local police officer telephoned me and yelled at me on multiple occasions that the police would not attend. No doubt the yelling was intended to stop us from calling. We telephone the Department for Natural Resources and were told that they could do nothing unless the hunters were caught with a kangaroo carcass. That, of course, is a big problem when no one will monitor or police the hunters.
This is Australia’s shame.
According to the report The ethics of the commercial killing of free-ranging kangaroos: an evaluation of the benefits and costs of the industry (Ben-Ami et al, 2014): On average, some three million kangaroos are commercially killed annually (Table2). A projection based on the above considerations (as there is no formal assessment) and the national commercial kill statistics (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Population and Communities [DSEPC] 2010) for the period 2000–2009 estimates that approximately 840,000 females, 210,000 young-at-foot and 590,000 pouch young were killed annually (Table 2).
The report states: the welfare costs include deliberate and indirect harm to dependent young (a by-product of the commercial kill), and a number of unintended harms to adult kangaroos, including increased mortality during drought, inhumane killing of a portion of adult kangaroos, and a disruption of social stability and the evolutionary potential of individuals. Furthermore, a substantial gap exists between the intended welfare standards of the code of practice governing the kangaroo industry and the welfare outcomes for both dependent young and adult kangaroos. We found that, on balance, the benefits are lower than expected and the welfare costs are likely to be considerably higher than acceptable.
The reports continues: Our analysis suggests that some provisions in the Code relating to best practice by shooters are not met. First, it is unlikely that young-at-foot are killed when their mothers are shot (see above) as required by the Code (Table 1). Second, there is a strong concern about the fate of mis-shot adults. As noted above, existing evidence from RSPCA Australia and Animal Liberation NSW suggests that many kangaroos are not shot in the brain per the desired welfare standard in the Code (Table1), and it is impossible to know how many mis-shot kangaroos are left in the field. The mandated methods for pouch young euthanasia have also been questioned, as discussed above, and there is no requirement for training in the Code—for either the killing of adults, or euthanasia of pouch young.
A study conducted by Animal Liberation NSW of carcasses in 25 chillers between 2005 and 2008, identified that up to 40% of kangaroos per chiller may have been neck shot (Ben-Ami 2009).
Lyn Gynther, an ex-kangaroo shooter from Queensland, says:
The entire industry is a cruel, inhumane and 100% unpoliced occupation as the only person who truly knows how the kangaroos die along with their joeys is the shooter and his off-sider. No other person is watching what they are doing at night.
Roos are shot in the neck, dying a terrible death by choking on their own blood, arms are blown off, joeys have the cold steel blade of a knife run across their tiny throats, often losing arms in the process (particularly if the joey is very tiny) and little care is taken by the shooter when he has already shot 60 or 80 roos for the night.
Joeys which are too large to have their throat cut are grabbed by the legs and bashed up against a hard part of the truck, (a tow ball or wheel, bull bar) and very seldom does the initial hit kill the joey outright. I have known shooters to swing the joey once only and then toss it behind their backs where the joey simply has a fractured skull and is unconsciencious, I have also known shooters to not kill the tiny newborn pouch joey and simply toss it over their shoulder into the night to die from exposure.
The following section is from the report The ethics of the commercial killing of free-ranging kangaroos: an evaluation of the benefits and costs of the industry (Ben-Ami et al, 2014).
Social impacts and diminished evolutionary potential of individuals
Recent evidence suggests that the ‘evolutionary potential’ (development and transferral of genes) of individuals is likely to be affected by the fitness level and quality of mothers (East et al 2009). Female kangaroos are generally most reproductively successful between the ages of 6–15 years (Bilton & Croft 2004). The death of these larger females not only impacts nutritionally dependent offspring but may be detrimental to other group members due to a variety of social interactions and dependencies. Social learning from the mother is likely to be a key factor to survivorship into adulthood (Higginbottom & Croft 1999), particularly as diet preferences and the ability to discriminate amongst plants are likely to be learnt from the mother (Provenza 2003). Female kangaroos also invest in training offspring to discriminate among stimuli used to assess predation risk (for a review, see Higginbottom & Croft 1999). Females that associate frequently with the same individuals are able to graze longer because they can afford to be less vigilant (Carter et al 2009).
Social learning also occurs in male groups. Play-fights often occur between mixed-age groups to assist training and to assess potential competitors (Croft & Snaith 1991). Adult male kangaroos, particularly the more social eastern and western grey kangaroos, are thought to be important in maintaining group cohesion (Pople & Grigg 1999). The loss of larger and older adults from a population through a size selective commercial killing (Pople 2004; Pople etal 2010) may have consequences for the fitness of the remaining individuals and destabilise social structures, (as already expressed by Grigg 1997; Croft 2004).