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Counting Kangaroos

Life on land

As well as the damage mitigation and commercial killing of Kangaroos, some states have “recreational” permits, and no-one even tries to guess how many Kangaroos are shot illegally, or how many die in fences and on roads every year – these factors are ignored by “harvest” models.

Peter Hylands, Andrea Hylands

September 16, 2022

As an aide to journalists, councils and members of the public who find themselves in the frontline of mass killing of wildlife, here are some questions you can ask the state governments in Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Tasmania and Queensland; there is a subset of questions for Victoria. This Q&A was written in 2019 but remains useful today and it has been updated where relevant. When Kangaroos are massacred so go the Emus.

Question one

Q1: By species, from 1995 until the end 2021, by calendar year, how many Kangaroos have been killed in each state using damage mitigation and commercial “harvest” permits? Please provide the numbers for each permit type separately.

A1: They will not be able to tell you the answer to this question, as the states do not know how many Kangaroos have been killed under damage mitigation permits. You will be able to get “harvest” numbers.

"Comment: The government, the industry and the media cannot describe Kangaroo killing in Australia as “sustainable” if no-one knows how many animals have been / are being killed".

Question two

Q2: During this period have any species been added to harvest species lists? If so why?

A2: South Australia has added the Kangaroo Island Tammar Wallaby, the Eastern Grey Kangaroo and the Sooty Kangaroo (the latter should be on the endangered species list) to their commercial species list, the Eastern Grey Kangaroos was formally described by its environment department in South Australia as rare, and will now be shot, where they persist at the extreme western limit of their distribution (in south-east South Australia).

Additional species are added to the commercial list because there are not enough of the original target species left to make commercialisation viable.

"Comment: The Tammar Wallaby had previously been listed as extinct on the South Australia mainland – it will be interesting to see if it fares better this time around".

Question three

Q3: Up to the end of 2019, have new shooting zones been added? Which are these?

A3: In 1991 NSW added the Northern Tablelands KMZ; in 2003 NSW added the SE NSW KMZ; in 2009 NSW added the Central Tablelands KMZ; in 2018 NSW expanded the SE NSW KMZ, in 2020 NSW plans to allow shooting in the Wagga Wagga district, even before they have estimates of the Kangaroo population there. South Australia has recently announced they are expanding their harvest zones to include new districts (including Kangaroo Island) which has now occurred. The whole of Victoria was added, divided into seven separate shooting zones (trial commenced 2014, made fully operational in 2019. Victoria is already showing signs of running out of Kangaroos.

"Comment: The two preceding questions go to the point of what exploitative industries the world over have done, as they start to run out of“product” (eg: fisheries); they “prey-switch”, and they expand their area of operations, in order to maintain their “catch”.

Question four

Q4: Up to the end of 2019, have shooting zones been abandoned? Which ones, and why?

A4: The answer to this question is YES (for example in NSW Western Grey Kangaroos are no longer killed commercially in KMZ8, after TAKE for this species declined to zero in the early 2000s). Wallaroos were also shot commercially in the western zones of NSW historically, but they no longer are, and indeed the department no longer even attempts to provide population estimates for this species in the west of the state. NSW closed the Griffith zone in 2010, but by mid-year, when they did the surveys, the population was reported to have miraculously recovered, and shooting recommenced after a break of only 9 months. NSW has several zone and species exclusions at the moment (September 2019), and Queensland has also just announced major zone closures.

"Comment: Note that the definition of a “sustainable”industry is one which provides a continuous yield, so the multiple closures (blamed on drought) are clear indicators that the industry is NOT sustainable, or they would still be shooting the Kangaroos".
"Also and just quickly regarding the Griffith zone closure, a joey born at the start of the zone closure would still be in its mother’s pouch after 9 months. A 9 month closure would have done absolutely nothing to allow the population to recover. Please take the time to look into reproductive rates for the species (maximum 10-15% increase per annum) and compare these rates to reported population increases in the “official” population estimates (which frequently double in a single year, that is, 10 times faster than is biologically and physically possible)".

Question five

Q5: To September 2019, How have methodologies for counting Kangaroos changed since so-called “scientific” surveys were initiated in the 1970s? This includes transect locations, correction factors and other components of the methodology?

A5: The short answer to this question is YES, but a detailed answer needs to have reference to how each of the states have changed their survey methodologies, since their inception in the 1970s.

"Comment: Good scientific practice requires methodologies to be replicated and repeated. For example, water bird surveys have been done exactly the same now for ~ 40 years. One of the hallmarks of poor science is where methodologies and analytical constants are periodically changed - unfortunately Kangaroo surveys in Australia have fallen at the first hurdle".

Question six

Q6: Have the survey methodologies and official population estimates been audited by independent authorities not linked to the trade in wildlife, or “experts” in pest management?

A6: The answer here is that we could not find any that passed our test – all reviews were in our view questionable because of the links involved and did not meet the independence test.

"Comment: Nothing about review of this industry has ever been independent – despite the notion that Kangaroos are “managed” by the NPWS, management of the species is actually and entirely vested in experts who view themas pests (please take the time to research the term “confirmation bias”)".

Question seven

Q7: How are Eastern and Western Greys distinguished in the count (where this applies)?

A7: They cannot be distinguished during the count, however NSW has had a crack at separating them as a proportion of what they count during ground surveys (based on data from ~2000, so it is out of date), and so have Victoria. Queensland have never bothered to even try to differentiate the species, and they do not provide population estimates or quota for Western Grey Kangaroos, however they would certainly form part of the TAKE in Queensland. This issue was a problem for those with oversight on the industry in the 1980s, but no-one seems to be worried about it anymore.

"Comment: Wallaroos will also be counted during surveys in Western NSW, but they do not appear on the raw data sheets – these animals as they are counted will almost certainly have been aggregated into the Grey Kangaroo and Red Kangaroo totals, as it would be impossible to see, identify and then discard these animals as observations".

Question eight

Q8: Again since 1995 by calendar year to 2019, what was the harvest quota for each species and what was the average annual state actual of animal skilled, by species?

A8: The departments should be able to answer this question quite easily.

"Comment: You will notice that the percentage as a proportion of the quota is decreasing. This is an indication that constantly inflated population estimates are generating more and more unachievable quotas. In the old days quota was supposed to limit take – these days quota in no way limits the killing – the shooters can shoot as many Kangaroos as they can find".

Question nine

Q9: Can you provide an estimate of how many dependant young (for both mitigation and harvest permits) have been killed by calendar year since 1995 and by species?

A9: This again should be able to be calculated by allocating a proportion of at-foot and pouch young to the proportion of the take, which are female animals. Dependant young killed because of damage mitigation permits will not be able to be assessed. 

"Comment: Killing female Kangaroos removes any possibility of population increase, as their young are what is supposed to be what comprises the annual “increase” in the harvest models".

Subset Q&A Victoria

Victoria provides an interesting case study as New South Wales appears to be struggling with the viability of its commercial Kangaroo industry (there are regional differences).

That said, in 2020 the commercial harvest quota for New SouthWales was 2,126,176 Kangaroos, that is 36.7 times greater than the Victorian quota in that year of 57,900. For 2021, this gap closes a bit, as New South Wales Kangaroo population estimates fall sharply and Victorian Kangaroo population estimates increase sharply, the New South Wales commercial quota for Kangaroos is 1,598,761, this time 16.7 times higher than the Victorian commercial quota of 95,680.

In Victoria, the commercial trade in Kangaroos, the killing rate and proposed quotas are clearly unsustainable. Off a base population (estimate) of 1.4 million at the beginning of 2018, Kangaroos (theoretically) killed in Victoria from permits issued by DELWP / fires (200,000 estimate) in the period 1/1/2018 – 31/12/2021 is estimated to total 924,694 Kangaroos.

Question ten

Q10: Since March 2014 to the end of 2021, by calendar year, how many Kangaroos have been killed using the state using damage mitigation and harvest permits? Please provide the numbers for each permit type separately. Also include an estimate for the number of joeys killed.

Question eleven

Q11: Why was a pet food trial commenced in 2014 without knowing how many Kangaroos existed in Victoria?

"Comment: note that the first survey in Victoria was only conducted in 2017; the program therefore fails before it begins. Any suggestion that the commercial killing in Victoria is “sustainable” cannot be substantiated, as they did not even know how many Kangaroos they had to start with".

Question twelve

Q12: During this period have species been added or dropped from your harvest species list? If so why?

A12: The Red Kangaroo, is no longer shot commercially in Victoria, because it has all but been exterminated in Victoria.

"Comment: To date, for Red Kangaroos, a number 14.5 times greater than their year 2000 population estimate at a total intended kill of 87,044, while 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 state population estimate of 13,000 by 2,187 animals.
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 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 Kangaroo, Victoria

Question thirteen

Q13: During this period have new shooting zones been added? If so which are these?

A13: All of Victoria is now divided into shooting zones, with few exceptions, which include the inner suburbs of the City of Melbourne. High powered rifles are now being used in the Melbourne suburbs where Kangaroo populations remain and for commercial purposes.

"Comment: Silencers, or suppressors as they are also known, reduce gunshot noise and are strictly controlled throughout Australia and are illegal in NSW. In Victoria they are commonly used by commercial Kangaroo shooters to conceal the killing as it occurs close to peoples’ houses. This is extremely dangerous because the general public will not be aware that shooting is taking place".

Question fourteen

Q14: How have methodologies for counting Kangaroos changed since 2017, this includes describing transects, correction factors and other components of the methodology?

A14: Many new transects have been added to the survey, and in some cases transects which sampled no Kangaroos in 2017 (for example transects which over-flew townships) have been deleted from the program.

"Comment: The Kangaroo population estimates and population increases published by the Victorian Government appear to be diverging more and more from the likely actual populations of these animals in the state. Population increases, given the significant losses in the last three years, are at a biologically impossible rate. As per surveys elsewhere, changing the methodology (adding / deleting transects) detracts from the scientific validity of the work (poor science). What is occurring is a systemic fishing for Kangaroos which distorts population estimates".

Question fifteen

Q15: Have the Victorian survey methodologies and counts been audited by independent authorities not linked to the trade in wildlife?

A15: No they have not.

Question sixteen

Q16: How are Eastern and Western Greys distinguished in the count?

A16: By splitting “grey” Kangaroos counted from the air into proportions according to ratios observed during ground surveys.

Question seventeen

Q17: Again since 2014 by calendar year, what was the harvest quota for each species and what was the average actual number of animals killed, by species?

A17: This question should be easily answered by the department.

Question eighteen

Q18: Can you provide an estimate of how many dependant young (for both mitigation and harvest permits) have been killed by calendar year since 2014 and by species? Again the number of dependant young killed because of mitigation permits cannot be identified.

Comment: “After initial efforts to slow the killing of female Kangaroos (the Victorian license requirements for commercial shooters actually state that females with evident young must not be shot) about one third of the commercial kill is now female. From the data we have seen, the number of joeys being killed is roughly equal to the number of females being killed (joeys are not accounted for in quota numbers). So that is likely to be taking out three generations of Kangaroos in one kill, the mother, an at foot joey (to 18 months old) and a pouch joey. These young are brutally killed, beaten to death, and in Victoria the larger joeys are likely being processed for pet food as there are no minimum size requirements for the commercial killing of Kangaroos in Victoria. This cannot be, and is not sustainable, as the government claim”.

Latest commercial data from Victoria (July 2022)

In Victoria and for the period January to end June 2022, the commercial kill against quota was as follows. The gross value of this terrible trade for the period is estimated at $950,000. This comprised 39,919 Grey Kangaroos, of which 13,652 were female. The quota for the period was 63,925 Grey Kangaroos, therefore 62 per cent of the quota was met. The greatest concentration of commercial shooters to receive permit allocations in the period were in the Central Shooting Zone at 65 shooters, this compares with the vast Mallee Shooting Zone of just five shooters with commercial allocations.