2023 Commercial exploitation of Kangaroos in South Australia
Life on land
Your support will assist us to continue our research and content development, the greater our resources, the more we can do.
The more we have an accurate understanding of what is happening to nature, the more we can all do to protect what remains of our living planet.
This is also an opportunity for philanthropists to be part of an ongoing project that tells independent stories about the natural world, stories that will help us to better understand what is happening to species and places on our precious planet Earth.
Note: Creative Cowboy Films does NOT have tax deductible charity status.
Becoming a member of Creative cowboy films The Nature Knowledge Channel is a very real way you can help the precious natural world and support the work we do in creating knowledge about what is happening to it.
The Nature Knowledge Channel is a very real way you can help the precious natural world and support the work we do in creating knowledge about the natural world.
Annual membership of the Creative cowboy films - Nature Knowledge Channel gives you full access to content, stories and films, available on this website. Becoming a member of the Creative cowboy films - Nature Knowledge Channel is a very real way you can help the natural world and support our work in creating a greater understanding about what is happening to it.
A point of difference
Creative cowboy films is independent, is not funded by governments or industry, and is not influenced by their associated interest groups. For reasons of independent research and content development, Creative cowboy films does NOT have tax deductible charity status.
Life on land
Everything about South Australia and its commercial exploitation of Kangaroos provides evidence of serial decline of Kangaroo populations in that state, while its government claims increases in populations which cannot be possible.
Five species of Kangaroo and Wallaby are now killed commercially in South Australia, the Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroo, the Sooty Kangaroo from Kangaroo Island (distinct variant of Western Grey Kangaroo), the Kangaroo Island Tammar Wallaby, the Red Kangaroo and the Euro.
South Australia is divided into Kangaroo shooting zones, which have been extended. They are Western Pastoral, Eastern Pastoral, Western Agricultural, Eastern Agricultural and Southern Agricultural. Commercial exploitation is also occurring on public lands including parks. These main regions are divided into sub-regions.
"As of 1 January 2020, the commercial exploitation of Kangaroos is allowed across the entire state, excluding metropolitan Adelaide and the Alinytjara Wilurara region for cultural reasons". South Australian Government
In South Australia in 1997, the intention was to kill 938,000 Kangaroos for commercial gain, the reported actuals were 315,940, of which 216,079 were Red Kangaroos. By 2019 this had dropped to 99,289 against a quota for that year of 752,100. Since then quotas and actual take have been reduced further. By 2021 the quota (based on population estimates) had reduced to 449,200, the number of Kangaroos actually killed in that year was 97,389, that is just 13 per cent of the 2019 quota and just 22 per cent of the reduced quota for 2021.
For the full-year 2022 in South Australia, 100,896 Kangaroos (all five species) were killed for commercial gain out of a quota 455,800, that is 22 per cent of the quota. The number killed in 2022 was slightly higher than in 2021, when 97,389 Kangaroos were killed, again 22 per cent of that year’s quota.
The 2022 commercial killing was composed of 49,371 Red Kangaroos (19 per cent of quota); 37,064 Western Grey Kangaroos (23 percent of quota and may include some Sooty Kangaroos from Kangaroo Island); 7,682 Euros (28 per cent of quota); 6,644 Eastern Grey Kangaroos (78 per cent of quota) and 135 Tammar Wallabies (4 per cent of quota).
The 2022 full-year data is sourced from Kangaroo ‘field processor’ returns by the South Australian Government. The following analysis does not include the Special Land Management Quota (SLMQ).
The highest number of Red Kangaroos were killed for commercial gain in the Eastern Pastoral shooting zone, where 21,866 (23 per cent of quota) Red Kangaroos were butchered out of a quota 93,300 for that zone.
The highest number of Western Grey Kangaroos were killed in the Southern Agricultural shooting zone at 13,268 animals. In the Eastern Agricultural shooting zone, 12,217 Western Grey Kangaroos were killed for commercial gain.
The most Euros killed for commercial gain were in the Eastern Agricultural shooting zone were 4,166 animals, 51 per cent of the 2022 quota for that zone.
A small population of Eastern Grey Kangaroos live in the Lower South East sub region within the Southern Agricultural shooting zone, where 6,779 Eastern Grey Kangaroos were shot for commercial gain, out of a quota for the region and species of 6,900.
One of the most disgraceful aspects of this conduct was that 135 Tammar Wallabies were killed for commercial gain on Kangaroo Island out of a quota of 2,900. These are tiny animals, of those killed the males averaging 5.1 ± 0.6 kilograms and the females 3.5 ± 0.4 kilograms.
In addition to the above, a Special Land Management Quota (SLMQ) was issued for 2,000 Euros in the North Flinders shooting zone sub- region and 1,654 males and 47 females were killed for commercial gain. An SLMQ for 700 Western Grey Kangaroos was issued for the Hills and Fleurieu shooting zone sub-region where 384 males and 316 females being killed for commercial gain.
In addition to this, 1,123 permits to destroy wildlife (damage mitigation permits) were issued to kill 61,489 Kangaroos, species of which are on the commercial exploitation list. Other species not on the list will also have likely been targeted as is the case in other states and these animals would be additional. I do not have the actuals for this category of Australian wildlife killing in South Australia.
Kangaroos were also killed in 11 National Parks and Wildlife Reserves and a total of 840 Western Grey Kangaroos, 43 Red Kangaroos and 144 Euros were killed because the government claims they are damaging the parks.
What is particularly shocking is that another 1,480 Kangaroos (composed 808 Western Grey Kangaroos, 491 Red Kangaroos and 181 Euros) were also killed for commercial gain in five National Parks and Wildlife Reserves, an increase from 1,026 Kangaroos killed on reserves in 2021. NOTE: Kangaroos killed for commercial purposes in National Parks and Wildlife Reserves are included in the 2022 commercial data.
Aerial surveys for Western Grey Kangaroos and Red Kangaroos have been conducted annually since 1978. In 2021, the aerial survey on Kangaroo Island, was repeated at 100m and 200m strip width as a comparison to the survey conducted during 2020.
Aerial surveys for large-bodied Kangaroos have been conducted in South Australia since 1978 using standard transect lines. Two types of ground surveys are used where aerial surveys were not possible; these were driving and walking surveys. Walking surveys were used to count Euros.
“During May 2022, a low level (250 feet) helicopter survey using mark-recapture line transect distance sampling was conducted in the Lower South East sub-region to develop a more robust population estimate. Ground surveys were used to develop a ratio of Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroos that was then applied to the aerial count as the two species cannot be distinguished in the air. Two types of ground surveys were used where aerial surveys were not possible; these were driving and walking surveys”. South Australian Government: Department of Environment and Water
The proportion of females being killed in South Australia is increasing sharply and is yet another indicator that what is occurring cannot be sustainable.
South Australia leads the way in the share of female Kangaroos now being killed for commercial gain. The increasing share of females being killed also means that more and more in-pouch-joeys and at-foot-joeys are being killed. This is both intensely cruel and unsustainable.
The increase in the share of females is due to the collapse of male Kangaroo populations across species due to an unsustainable killing rate caused by overstating populations, particularly Red and Grey Kangaroos are impacted in this way. This, in turn, means body weights of those animals being processed will be lower as females are much smaller than the traditionally targeted large males.
In 2021, of the 42,115 Red Kangaroos killed for commercial gain, 19,638 were females (a staggering 47 per cent). For the Western Grey Kangaroo the proportion of females killed was 45 per cent. For Eastern Grey Kangaroos the proportion of females killed was 44 per cent.
Knowing all this in 2022 / 2023 the South Australian Government claims significant increases in Kangaroo populations, despite dire environmental conditions, previous quotas not being met by a very long way and the rapidly rising share of females and their joeys being killed.
Everything about South Australia and its commercial exploitation of Kangaroos provides evidence of serial decline of Kangaroo populations in that state, while its government claims increases in populations which cannot be possible.
Of great concern is that the latest claims of population increases described here represent a step change, particularly given climate conditions, in the scale and scope of the killing as they relate to the improbable claims being made. The most likely scenario, and shooters kill everything they can get, is that for some species and sub-regions, the 2023 quotas are likely to be greater than the entire population that still remains and that means removal of Kangaroos from more and more landscapes across the state.
Adding new species to the commercial trade in wildlife is a very clear sign that there are no longer enough of the main commercially targeted species to make commercial activities properly viable. Extending regions so that the entire state in now available to shooters (two exceptions) is yet another indicator that something is very wrong. Zone closures are also occurring, yet another indicator that all is not as claimed, if it were sustainable, zones would not be closing.
The situation on Kangaroo Island is a particularly sad one. Following the catastrophic fires of 2019 / 2020 and very large donations from around the world to rescue and rehabilitate native wildlife on the island, the commercial exploitation of the newly added commercial list species, the Sooty Kangaroo and Kangaroo Island Tammar Wallaby, was paused.
“Harvesting on Kangaroo Island commenced in 2022, with small numbers of both Tammar Wallabies and Western Grey Kangaroos harvested from the island to date”. South Australian Government: Department of Environment and Water
The killing for commercial gain of these two species has been substantially increased for 2023 and this is described in the state’s 2023 quota report thus:
For the Sooty Kangaroo -
“Kangaroo Island was not surveyed during 2022 as no animals were 'harvested' during 2021. The population density estimate of 9.5/km2 or 41,781 Kangaroos has been used to set the 2023 quota for Western Grey Kangaroos (Sooty Kangaroo) on the island. The quota has been held at 10 per cent of the population estimate as per the 2022 Quota Report”. South Australian Government: Department of Environment and Water
Quota for 2023 is set at 4,100.
Comment: This species should be on the threatened species list and not in a pet food can. Given the grim history of this species on the island, efforts must now be made to stop the killing of these animals before it is too late.
For the Kangaroo Island Tammar Wallaby –
“Tammar Wallabies have posed a challenge to survey on Kangaroo Island. Since 2019 several survey methods have been trialled, which include; helicopter flights with thermal cameras, spotlight road surveys, thermal binocular road surveys and finally an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flown at night with thermal cameras. Due to the nocturnal behaviour and small size of the species, the helicopter flights did not observe adequate numbers to provide a robust population estimate. While night time road based surveys produced higher estimates than the helicopter surveys, these were still restricted to road availability and had limited visibility in some areas due to roadside vegetation. The quota for Tammar Wallabies for 2023 has been set at a conservative 5 per cent of the population estimate to account for data being collected over two years and to allow for further analysis of the data and fine-tuning of survey methods in the future”. South Australian Government: Department of Environment and Water
Quota for 2023 is set at 19,200, a 562 per cent increase over the previous year.
The South Australian Government’s 2023 Kangaroo commercial quota report gives the Tammar Wallaby’s population on Kangaroo Island as 384,671, which is an increase more than nine times the previous population estimate.
Studying the 2023 quota report and away from the main description regarding the Tammar Wallaby’s population on Kangaroo Island, we find instead, in a line, in a table at the end of the 2023 Kangaroo commercial quota report the latest population estimate for the species at many times our own estimate for that population.
The population of the Tammar Wallaby in 2020 was estimated to be 42,221, with a commercial quota of 2,900. This means that the Tammar Wallaby population on Kangaroo Island (mainland sub-species was thought extinct until rediscovered in New Zealand a few years ago) has, according to the estimates, increased more than ninefold in just two years. This does not appear possible but the significantly increased quota of 19,200 does make the species, in at least the short term, a viable proposition for commercial exploitation.
Comment: Terrible to even contemplate that these beautiful Wallabies can end up in a pet food can, given the uncertainty in relation to the population, the increase in quota is irresponsible and represents a crime against the natural world. What makes this even more shocking is that this is a species for which, on the South Australian mainland, the mainland sub-species was though to be extinct until a relatively recent discovering of a population of these animals in New Zealand.
“The estimated size of the Red Kangaroo population across the harvest area is 1,626,425. This is an increase of 17 per cent from the previous year total of 1,387,013 and 18 per cent lower than the 20 year rolling average of 1,706,694 (2002-2021 data from model estimates). The increase in Red Kangaroo numbers observed this year is likely in response to improved environmental conditions across South Australia”. South Australian Government: Department of Environment and Water
Quota for 2023 is set at 313,800, a 33 per cent increase over the previous year.
Comment: We see very few Red Kangaroos on our extensive journeys, and that includes in South Australia. Our view is that where it still exists, the Red Kangaroo is in very deep trouble. To destroy an Australian icon for pet food suggests some very strange attitudes and a lack of any regard for future generations of Australians who are going to be very lucky to see a Red Kangaroo in the wild.
Western Grey Kangaroo
“The estimated size of the Western Grey Kangaroo population across the 'harvest' area (excluding Southern Agricultural harvest region) is 1,125,586. This is a 50 per cent increase from the 2021 population estimate of 752,185 and 6 per cent above the 20 year rolling average of 1,065,015 (2002-2021 data from model estimates). The increase in population is most likely in response to the recent high rainfall conditions across most of South Australia”. South Australian Government: Department of Environment and Water
Quota for 2023 is set at 200,200, a 39 per cent increase on the previous year.
Comment: Claims of a 50 per cent increase in population over the previous year is biologically impossible and cannot be correct.
Eastern Grey Kangaroo
“The 2022 population density estimate for Eastern Grey Kangaroos is 8.0/km2, which equates to a population estimate of 92, 317 across the Lower South East sub-region. The 2022 population estimate is an increase of 341 per cent of the 2021 population estimate of 20,933 Kangaroos”. South Australian Government: Department of Environment and Water
Quota for 2023 is set at 13,800, a doubling over the previous year.
Comment: Claims of a 341 per cent increase in population over the previous year is biologically impossible and complete nonsense. This species was listed as rare in South Australia until it appeared on the list of commercially exploited species three years ago.
“During 2022, two sub-regions were surveyed for Euros – North Flinders and North East Pastoral. Other population estimates have used data collected between 2018 and 2021. The estimated size of the Euro population across the commercial harvest area is 375,921, an increase of 24 per cent from the 2021 estimate of 302,821 and 23 per cent below the 20 year rolling average of 491,041 (2002 -2021). The increase in the Euro population is most likely due to the rainfall experienced by the state over the previous 12-18 months”. South Australian Government: Department of Environment and Water
Quota for 2023 is set at 29,300, a 26 per cent increase on the previous year.
Comment: South Australia needs to take up Western Australia’s example, where the situation for Euros is similar, and remove this species from the commercial list.
In a response to my correspondence to the Deputy Premier and Environment Minister relating to conduct towards wildlife, particularly Kangaroos in that state, here is part of that response (we should note that South Australia is the driest state in Australia, so not much chance for Kangaroos then?):
“Kangaroo numbers fluctuate in response to rainfall, with periods of high rainfall stimulating food growth and increasing Kangaroo populations. During periods of high population, Kangaroos can have cause damage to pasture, crops, infrastructure and native vegetation. On DEW managed parks and reserves, Kangaroo numbers may be controlled when populations are causing damage to conservation values of the park or reserve.
Under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (the Act), kangaroos are protected species, and the Act acknowledges that there may be times when kangaroo numbers need to be managed in order to protect conservation values of specific parks. The Act and associated regulations allow for the management of kangaroos via non-commercial culling or the commercial Kangaroo harvest. Kangaroo management is undertaken on parks that have an approved Kangaroo management plan under DEW Kangaroo on reserves (population control) policy and procedure. Under this policy, evidence of Kangaroo damage to conservation values of the park must be identified and control of non-native herbivores must be included as an essential part of the management program. Once the plan has been approved, Kangaroos may be managed by either culling or via the commercial Kangaroo industry, similar to any other land manager”. Director of Conservation and Wildlife, South Australia
Following some pretty outrageous claims, some reported by the ABC, I have asked the South Australian Government the following questions. Here are the answers I received (February 2023).
Increase of 50 per cent in the Western Grey Kangaroo population – where are these animals coming from? – (increase not biologically possible).
“The estimated size of the Western Grey Kangaroo population across the harvest area (excluding Southern Agricultural harvest region) is 1,125,586. This is a 50% increase from the 2021 population estimate of 752,185”.
ANSWER: The 50 per cent increase equates to an additional 373,401 Kangaroos across a large proportion of the state, about 319,910 km2. This equates to an increase of 1.2 Kangaroos per km2 over the course of 12 months. As identified in the quota report, this increase in population is most likely in response to the recent high rainfall conditions across most of South Australia.
COMMENT: Does not address the question and does not explain how populations can increase by biologically impossible rates. For the record, biologically impossible increases are just that, impossible. Given the low reproductive rate of Kangaroo species, (one joey per annum, high juvenile mortality etc) claims of exploding populations are never explained, because they can’t be and because this does not fit within the established narrative of high fecundity and population increases, despite climate circumstances, habitat destruction and industrial scale killing of these animals. It should be noted that those individuals making claims about good times, and often they are far from that, fail to comprehend that after 12 months joeys are only just starting to emerge from the pouch, so this cannot be used as an explanation for the reported increase. Research papers also describe fertility, ie. population increase as being delayed after rainfall.
Commercial harvest on Kangaroo Island – Sooty Kangaroo and Tammar Wallaby. Are these animals being killed for commercial purpose or otherwise on public lands including Flinders Chase National Park? Split between commercial and non-commercial killing pls.
ANSWER: No these animals are not being killed for commercial purpose in Flinders Chase National Park.
COMMENT: Question not answered in full. Given the response, it is highly likely that both species are being killed in the park, but not using commercial permits. Given the transitioning of 'mitigation' permits to commercial permits after Kangaroos have been killed (as now occurs in Tasmania for example), we should still be concerned about what is happening, particularly so, given the catastrophic fires on the island and their impact on wildlife.
Charles Brice (ABC SA) reported on the newly released Kangaroo population figures last week and among the claims were that Kangaroos were threatening the Glossy Black Cockatoo. Where is the research evidence for this from South Australia? Pls provide evidence of this claim.
ANSWER: Please direct your question to the KI Landscape Board.
COMMENT: Kangaroo Island is home to a unique subspecies of the endangered Glossy Black-cockatoo. Removal of native vegetation has resulted in the loss of nesting and feeding habitat, and by 1996 the population of this subspecies had declined to less than 200 birds. The population did recover somewhat to around 450 birds because of a local recovery program. The 2019-2020 climate change related bushfires ‘had a massive impact’ on the population as was the case for Kangaroos and Wallabies. About 75 percent of the endangered Glossy Black-cockatoo population lived in the bushfire-impacted area and a significant percentage of its known feeding habitat was burnt. Actions to improve the species chances, include installing nesting boxes and planting of she-oaks. Given many decades of habitat destruction, the island lacks nesting hollows, impart offset by installation of the nesting boxes.
What are the Aboriginal cultural values being destroyed by Kangaroos?
“The SA Arid Lands Landscape Board is seeking an independent supplier (an individual without a vested interest in the Kangaroo management realm presently) with a proven record in partnering, engagement and communication / marketing with diverse stakeholder groups. This role will establish, coordinate and facilitate a Kangaroo management partnership for South Australia. Kangaroo over-abundance and over-grazing presents a threat to the condition and resilience of South Australia’s landscapes, to Aboriginal cultural values, to the sustainability of the livestock grazing industry, and to conservation values. Mass starvation deaths of Kangaroos as a result of overpopulation represents a significant and distressing animal welfare issue. Kangaroos are a valuable resource but are not recognised for their true value. Opportunities to maximise harvesting outcomes for both economic and environmental outcomes can be more fully realised”.
ANSWER: Please direct your question to the SA Arid Lands Landscape Board.
South Australia leads the nation in the share of female Kangaroos being killed for commercial gain. This takes out the next generation and beyond. How can an actual take in which nearly 50 per cent of the Kangaroos being killed are female, be a sustainable practice and how can Kangaroo populations increase under these circumstances? Why are so many female Kangaroos now being killed?
ANSWER: In the 2021 Harvest Report a total of 97,389 Kangaroos were harvested, which equates to 3 per cent of the total population estimate. Of the total harvest for all species, 41,311 females were harvested, which is 42 per cent of the total harvest and therefore 1.2 per cent of the total population harvested was female. At these very low harvest rates, the taking of females will have a negligible effect on the total population and will not prevent populations increasing in future years.
COMMENT: The critical issues here are that; a) Percentage of females now being killed for commercial gain has increased rapidly as the shooters struggle to find larger males; and b) The problem here is that it is highly probable that the Kangaroo population estimates are significantly overstated and this means the share of females being killed (and the joeys killed as a result) is now at unsustainable levels.
Year on year the actual take against quota has declined to very low levels, why is this?
“In South Australia in 1997, 938,000 Kangaroos were killed (this was the quota - actual 315,940) for commercial gain, by 2019 this had dropped to 99,289 against a quota for that year of 752,100. Since then quotas and actual take have been reduced further. By 2021 the quota (based on population estimates) had reduced to 449,200, the number of Kangaroos actually killed in that year was 97,389, that is just 13 per cent of the 2019 quota and just 22 per cent of the reduced quota for 2021. The story for 2022 was similar, 80,069 Kangaroos were killed for commercial gain in the first ten months of that year (full year data not available at time of writing). That is19 per cent of quota and projections from the South Australian Government were that the full year actual take against quota is estimated at 23 per cent”.
ANSWER: For the past decade the number of Kangaroos that have been commercially harvested has remained relatively stable at about 100,000. In 1997 the harvest quota of Kangaroos was 938,000 but only 314,170 Kangaroos were commercially harvested that year. The drop in figures from 1997 to 2021 is related to commercial demand from processors.
COMMENT: There is no evidence of reduced demand from processors in South Australia, if this was the case, why the significant increase in the quota in 2023? If so why the expansion of the commercial activity to more species and more regions, including the whole state of Victoria? This claim is also made in other states when the issue of declining take against quota is raised.
Given the dire climate change impacts over the last three years, Kangaroos aside, which other native mammal species in South Australia have had significant population increases over the period since the 2019/20 fires to the present? Please list the native mammal species experiencing significant population increases in South Australia over the period.
ANSWER: The Department for Environment and Water monitors a number of native species across South Australia but none as extensively as Kangaroos.
COMMENT: Does not address the question, the answer to which is likely to be none (perhaps mice aside).