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Cooking the books: Kangaroos in Australia

Life on land

“I hope that the work that was being done would find a way to preserve the largest of the marsupials from complete eradication” Gerald Durrell 1965

Peter Hylands, Andrea Hylands

May 21, 2023

The mass killing of Red Kangaroos is occurring in State and National Parks in the north western part of Victoria and to such an extent that the species could become extinct in Victoria (following seven other species in this family in the state) unless remedial action occurs quickly.

Red Kangaroo: No place of refuge in Victoria

“For the largest of the Macropods, the Red Kangaroo, the neonate emerges after a short gestation period of 33 -34 days. The little animal makes its precarious journey to the pouch where it attaches itself to its mother’s teat (one of four). The young animal takes its first venture into the outside world at around 27 weeks, these are typically short excursions.
The young Kangaroo will continue to suckle for another six months or so, making the time to weaning 14 to 18 months, depending on the species. The dependant relationship between mother and joey is lengthy and very close, and for the observer is one of the great joys of the natural world".

Young Red Kangaroo in care

Victorian Government permits to kill Red Kangaroos

The Victorian Government has issued permits to kill Red Kangaroos in Victoria that are:

  • To date from year 2000, a number 14.5 times greater than their year 2000 population estimate at a total intended kill of 87,044;
  • For the years 2010 to 2012 permits were issued to kill 70 Red Kangaroos, for the years 2016 to 2018 permits were issued to kill 33,118 Red Kangaroos, a number 473 times higher than when compared to the previous period;
  • In 2017 the permits issued to kill Red Kangaroos exceeded their entire Victorian Government state population estimates by 2,187 animals;
  • During the catastrophic bushfires of 2019 and 2020, and as the world was donating tens of millions of dollars for the rescue and rehabilitation of Australian wildlife, the Victorian Government issued permits to kill 16,648 Red Kangaroos, most, in State and National Parks in Victoria;
  • The number of animals being targeted each year for destruction is clearly nonsensical when compared to ongoing population estimates;
  • The question here is where are all these Red Kangaroos coming from? Certainly not from their mothers as the breeding rate required to fit the government’s numbers is IMPOSSIBLE;
  • Since Labor have been in government in Victoria the rate of government wildlife enabled killing has rapidly escalated, in the case of the Red Kangaroo comparing the Liberal Government terms (4 years 2011 – 2014) and Labor (4 years 2015 – 2018) shows that the Labor kill rate for Red Kangaroos for example was 2.7 times higher for the period, Labor issuing permits to kill 34,268 Red Kangaroo in its first four years in office; and
  • Particularly of concern are the population estimates for the species, which are wrong (inflated) and, even so, the kill quota (the Victorian Government claims that a 10 per cent of population kill rate each year is sustainable) is hovering around 25 per cent of the estimated population per annum and in one year (given the government’s own numbers) the kill rate exceeds the entire population estimate for that year. My view is that, given the inflated population estimates, the Victorian Government is regularly issuing permits to kill Red Kangaroos that exceed the entire state population. Setting aside the grotesque cruelty, what is occurring is a recipe for extinction. We need an accurate account of how many Red Kangaroos they have actually killed each year since 2016 (most of which were living in parks).

Red Kangaroos in Victoria: A brief history

“In Victoria there are pre-European Red Kangaroo records (Holocene deposits = last 10,000 years) from the latitude of Melbourne, and the habitats present across Victoria suggest that the species would have occurred almost all the way to the south coast prior to the arrival of Europeans, as it did in South Australia (Yorke Peninsula, Eyre Peninsula, Yankalilla etc). By 1866 they were becoming “scarce” south of the Murray River, but they still occurred in Central Victoria (Mt Hope region), with a range contraction in the order of about 250 kilometers.
By the 1980s their distribution was limited to the northwest corner (Wyperfeld / Murray-Sunset National Park); their range had contracted by at least another 200km in a little over 100 years. Recent records (1980s to the present day) indicate that the species distribution has continued to contract into the farthest north-west corner of the state, in the order of another 30 kilometers in the last 25 years (there are no longer Red Kangaroos in Wyperfeld National Park according to Morgan and Pegler 2010). Back-of-envelope calculation suggests they persist in only about 7,500 square kilometers, from a pre-European range of about 83,000 square kilometers, indicating decline in the order of at least 90% in the southern parts of Victoria”.

From notes supplied to me by friend and ecologist Ray Mjadwesch some years ago.

Commercial exploitation of Kangaroos

"In February the Dutch Parliament passed a motion from Party for the Animals, MP Frank Wassenberg, calling on the government to address the problem of access to the European market of controversial products such as Kangaroo meat and Kangaroo products with the European Commission. Agriculture Minister Henk Staghouwer supported the motion, saying that he shares the concerns expressed about the commercial exploitation of Kangaroos.” Peter Hylands

The gross value of Australia’s entire commercial exploitation of Kangaroos in 20-21 was $25 million (Commonwealth Gazette). Government expenditures to promote this vile conduct Australia wide exceeds that number by a very long way. The greatest cost comes in the destruction of far more important and long-term productive businesses in the regions where they are needed. The costs also accrue because of the cruelty and misconduct directed at property and business owners in Victoria’s regions. (We are experts in this matter at our great cost).

This is a grim business indeed. New South Wales based Kangaroo shooters are claiming they need 5,000 Kangaroos each year to make their operations viable. Doing some very rough calculations this suggests that the Victorian commercial Kangaroo quota would need to be set at 430,000 Kangaroos to give the current group of Kangaroo shooters in Victoria a reasonable level of prosperity.

Even if some of these shooters were part-time, and if Kangaroo meat prices were higher and more of the Kangaroo was utilised, the probability remains, that more than 300,000 Kangaroos would be required to be killed for commercial benefit in Victoria each year to make the commercial exploitation viable. That was more than three times the 2021 commercial quota in Victoria. The simple problem is that Kangaroos do not exist in these numbers in Victoria and that commercial shooting of Kangaroos in the state is not viable beyond a brief initial period from commencement of commercial killing activities at scale.

Impact of mass killing

“All over the world the wildlife that I write about is in grave danger. It is being exterminated by what we call the progress of civilization. A great number of creatures will become extinct in a very short time if something is not done, and done swiftly” Gerald Durrell 1958

Wherever this commercial exploitation of Kangaroo species occurs the patterns are very clear and long term – continually declining take against quota (most states are down to around 16 to 20 percent, sometimes less for all species). This trend is continually ignored when estimating populations, exaggerated population estimates leading to further declines against quota year on year. This in turn leads to prey switching, i.e. adding new species to the commercial list, and the extension of shooting zones. In the case of Victoria you do not have any more opportunities to add shooting zones because the whole of Victoria is covered by the seven zones. I doubt that even National and State parks are now refuges from this insidious conduct.

Commercial exploitation of Kangaroos in Vitoria

The aftermath of mass shooting

We all need to understand what happens in the aftermath of the shooting. The checking to see no animals were injured on the property we are staying at, dealing with the distress of pets, the utter feeling of disempowerment of all present as the collateral damage from the nights activities is dealt with, continued until 4am. The next day is ruined in terms of any possibility of working and so the damage continues.

Grey Kangaroos: Females

It is completely unacceptable that female Kangaroos are now killed in Victoria in such large numbers and that joeys are also killed. The latter is particularly cruel and I suggest that the politicians and government staff promoting this behaviour are made to witness the beating to death of a gentle and beautiful joey. They will then learn that this is NOT humane.

I was told at the beginning of 2021 that the regulations around issuing commercial permits in Victoria would not change to match the further weakening of the national code. I quote from the Victorian regulations (Conditions of Authorisation under section 28A of the Wildlife Act 1975, to hunt, take, destroy, possess, dispose of and sell Eastern Grey Kangaroos and Western Grey Kangaroos in accordance with the approved Victorian Kangaroo Harvest Management Plan 2021-2023) – 

"Kangaroos with obvious dependent young must not be shot".

So what happened to compliance – I assume the Victorian authorisation is completely meaningless?

Experiments on babies

Yet more abhorrent experiments on how to kill baby Kangaroos. AgriFutures Australia issues a request for quotation for organisations to measure the effectiveness of the non-penetrative captive bolt to stun dependent young prior to killing them (as part of the AgriFutures Kangaroo Program). The aim of this project is to provide AgriFutures with the research to develop a standard operating procedure (sop) for best practice use of non-penetrative captive bolt to achieve insensibility before humane euthanising of dependent young under the National Code of Practice for the humane shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies (NO SUCH THING, the whole thing is intensely cruel).

Kangaroos and their young have been killed in the most horrifically cruel ways for decades, despite large protests, endless discussions, even cruel experiments, and absolutely nothing has changed.

So despite the grim experiments of the past yet more animals have to suffer terrible deaths to enable yet another bit of marketing to say that what occurs is well managed and humane. The Federal Government, who funds this organisation, needs to put a stop to this before it starts.

In 2014 the Australian Wildlife Protection Council reported (and the situation has just deteriorated from there):

“The Code of Practice is not linked to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and is legally unenforceable. Contrary to public perception, the RSPCA does NOT monitor or police cruelty to commercially killed kangaroos. The nature and method of slaughter cannot be ignored, it is barbaric and inhumane. Each night thousands of animals are butchered, many are maimed, the pouch young are cruelly dispatched and the young at foot are left to fend for themselves. The cruelty and suffering that we have already seen in the native animal industries mean that this is no longer an experiment. Hundreds of thousands of kangaroos each year are not killed humanely, emu chicks in Western Australia are de-toed without anaesthesia to reduce risks to handlers, and possums in Tasmania are trapped, transported and killed over a period that now has blown out to anything up to 48 hours. The trade in wildlife is a trade based on profit, without any place for compassion. (from the foreword The Kangaroo BETRAYED! Professor Peter Singer).”

Grey Kangaroos: Males

Kangaroo ecology is being completely disrupted (in the most negative of ways) by the mass killing of male Kangaroos across the continent.

While the fires were burning – What happened to these animals?

“In 2019/ 2020, Parks Victoria killed a total of 8,298 Kangaroos from the North West parks under ATCW permits 14804936, 14804948 and 14804961. This accounted for 45% of the overall target of 18,269”.

Strange days indeed

“Potential drivers of Common Brushtail Possum decline on a Murray River floodplain - Overgrazing by Kangaroos likely reduced vegetation cover and diversity and contributed to possum decline, via a reduction in possum food resources and increased exposure to predation. Inconsistent monitoring meant that the population decline was not detected until after it had occurred, and management interventions were not triggered, highlighting the dilemma of allocating scarce monitoring resources”. Abstract - CSIRO 2022 

A note on Brushtail Possums – In the 19th Century distribution occurred across much of the Australian continent, Brushtails are now gone from most of the arid zone (nothing to do with Kangaroos who have also mostly gone), now rare in semi-arid regions and declining in the tropical and temperate woodlands of northern, south-western and eastern Australia. Remain in urban environments and persecuted in its remaining strongholds because of close interaction with humans.

Since 2009 the Victorian Government has issued permits to kill 2,121 Brushtail Possums, I suspect these are mostly in public lands including State and National Parks. Other killing occurs when they are poisoned and trapped in ways that remain illegal in the state.

Not made in Australia – Kangaroo body tags

“Problem this year with supply. Tags come from Malaysia. Shipping challenges this year due to COVID 19. Strong demand for tags. Some areas ran out of tags. Looking into other options for future tags – made in Australia / recyclable product”. KMAP November 2021

We might well ask what happened when there were no tags available?

2021 survey results, commercially exploited Kangaroo species population estimates for 2022

Here are the Commonwealth Government's composite figures of state population surveys for 2021 which give the 2022 population estimates.

Total population estimate for 2022 from information provided by each state where commercial exploitation of Kangaroos occurs (excluding Tasmania) was 30,671,768.

So it is not 50 million as continually claimed in the media, including by Australia’s national public broadcaster, the ABC.


  • NSW  10,913,343
  • Qld      12,959,400
  • SA        2,488,285
  • VIC      1,911,550
  • WA       2,399,190

Note: We regard these numbers as far too high, but they remain the official figures for that year.

Note: Tasmania has one species, the Forester Kangaroo, which is exploited commercially (along with the Wallabies), even though its total population is now likely to be well below 20,000 animals.

Note: On the mainland states, Kangaroos are exploited commercially in almost all regions where they occur and population counts of the commercially exploited species are even being conducted across state and national parks, where populations are higher. Where this occurs it inflates the population estimates significantly.

Note: No commercial exploitation of Kangaroos occurs in the Northern Territory were Kangaroo population densities are low.