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Counting Kangaroos in Victoria 2020

Life on land

"Symptoms of dramatic decline in populations include new regions being added as other shooting zones are being closed, new species added to the commercial list and the lower and lower take against quota". Peter Hylands

Peter Hylands

May 21, 2023

Minister for Agriculture Mary-Anne Thomas today announced the 2021 quota allocation for the Kangaroo Harvesting Program:

“Which has risen due to a notable increase in the estimated statewide Kangaroo population in the last three years”.

This analysis was written in late January and February 2021 and stands as a historical record of events.

Thinking about numbers

Many of the population estimates for Kangaroos in Australia do not pass the basic sniff test. So why are these numbers never challenged? That is a very hard question to answer.

The 2018 Kangaroo population survey (having counted 4,707 Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroos) resulted in a government population estimate of 1,425,000 Kangaroos for 2018 (this include the three species that were on the Victorian commercial trade in wildlife list at that time).

In December 2019 the Victorian Government’s Arthur Rylah Institute estimated the population of two species of Grey Kangaroo in 2020 was likely to be 1,378,605 (the Red Kangaroo was removed from the commercial list in late 2019 but its killing continued and mainly in National Parks).

Following the Kangaroo survey in late 2020 in Victoria, the population estimate released in January 2021, now puts the population in Victoria of Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroos species at 1,911,550. That is a population increase of Grey Kangaroos in Victoria of 532,945 over the previous year estimates and following catastrophic fires.

Six critical issues the Victorian Government continues to ignore

ONE: 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.

TWO: Remaining Grey Kangaroo populations will increasingly be associated with land for wildlife properties, the edge of towns, public lands and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres, including wildlife hospitals. This is occurring as Kangaroo populations vanish in remoter regional places like the Mallee Shooting Zone (95 per cent of Victoria’s landmass is now divided into shooting zones for the commercial trade in wildlife) and as population estimates diverge more and more from the actual populations of these animals. This trend is extremely dangerous and distressing for human populations impacted by wildlife killing at close quarters.

THREE: 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 – 31/12/2021is estimated to total 924,694 Kangaroos.

FOUR: Kangaroo populations are at increasing risk, remember that for Victoria the current circumstances for the broader family of these animals are that seven out of the 16 species present here in the 19th Century are now extinct, I would put many of the remaining species at risk, some at grave risk, two of which have been put at risk from the commercial exploitation occurring now.

FIVE: 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 South Wales 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.

SIX: 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, 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. That is more than three times the current 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.

Counting Red Kangaroos in Victoria

Red Kangaroos in Victoria are an exemplar when it comes to describing the problem with Government Kangaroo counts and population estimates in Victoria.

I am concerned that in the 2020 survey they have also counted the Red Kangaroo and put that species’ population in Victoria at 30,450. This is after making an earlier enquiry to DELWP asking why they had not counted the population of the Eastern Wallaroo in Victoria (endangered in Victoria and in deep trouble after the fires), the response being they only intend to survey species on the commercial trade in wildlife list. As a point of history, the Victorian Government population estimates for the Red Kangaroo in Victoria were 6,000 in the year 2000, in the 2017 survey when they counted just 23 Red Kangaroos put the population at 13,000, in the 2018 survey they counted 91 Red Kangaroos, this led to a population estimate of 44,000.

Since 2009 the Victorian Government has issued permits to kill 59,214 Red Kangaroos PLUS their joeys – many of these on public lands including State and National Parks.  

The very concerning thing here, is that, in the period 2009 to 2012 permits were issued to kill 2,155 Red Kangaroos, by 2016 to 2019 this number had risen to 43,191.

"So it is highly probable that the Victorian Government was issuing permits to kill Red Kangaroos well in excess of their Victorian population".

If the early years in this time series are compared with the later ones the difference in the number of Red Kangaroos (year high and lows) is 15 (in 2010) to 15,187 (in 2017). That is 1,012 times higher.

For these reasons, and the evident silliness of the numbers, the Red Kangaroo was removed from the commercial trade in wildlife list towards the end of 2019. By counting them again in 2020, and as Grey Kangaroo populations in the state are destroyed, it looks to me as if the Victorian Government is conniving to put the Red Kangaroo back on the commercial trade in wildlife list once more.

Added to this startling set of numbers, it is worth saying that there have been extremely aggressive actions, since October 2019, to kill Kangaroos (and even as the vast fires were burning) in public lands, including State and National Parks. For the year from October 2019 permits were issued to kill:

  • 10,421 Western Grey Kangaroos; and
  • 7,848 Red Kangaroos (since the species was removed from commercial exploitation)
  • So off a base of just 6,000 animals in the year 2000, since which time a large number of permits have been issued to kill literally tens of thousands of Red Kangaroos (not including joeys, which are not counted in the slaughter), in 2021 we still end up with a population estimated of 30,450.

Number crunch: Kangaroo species in Victoria subject to commercial exploitation

The problem with the numbers discussed here is as follows, since and including 2018, permits have been issued by the government to kill (and this does not include the number of joeys which are also killed but not accounted for) a staggering 443,494 Kangaroos (only those species associated with the commercial trade in wildlife – they kill other species as well). In addition to this number, a reasonable estimate for the loss of Kangaroos in the terrible 2019/20 summer fires is 200,000 animals (this fits nicely into the national estimates).

Add to this the newly published quota for 2021 of permits to kill another 191,200 Grey Kangaroos (176,650 EGK and 14,550 WGK) in Victoria. The commercial component of this in Victoria is 95,680 animals, (for comparison, in 2020 the NSW commercial quota was 2,126,176).

Add in the killing of around 90,000 joeys since the beginning of 2018, and that brings the results from permits issued / fires in the period 1/1/2018 – 31/12/2021 to 924,694 Kangaroos, all of this vast scale killing and death, since the beginning of 2018 and off a base population estimate (itself an exaggeration) of just over 1.4 million.

So well over half the population of the species subject to commercial exploitation has gone in the period in which the government is claiming a boom in population numbers. Despite what the government pretends, Kangaroo reproduction rates are relatively slow, joeys remain with their mothers for up to 18 months and are still feeding on mother’s milk for much of that time. Yet the government is boasting a 41 per cent population increase since 2018 estimates.

So the big question is where are all these Kangaroos coming from?

Background notes on the numbers

The numbers above are all taken from Victorian Government published documents including ATCW reports and Kangaroo population and commercial trade reports.

"I have said over and over again that the VictorianGovernment promoted increase in Kangaroo population estimates is simply a function of changed methodologies. My immediate view, following the silly announcement of a large population increase, was that this change was front loaded in the process of creating the population estimate, that means much more was done to count as many Kangaroos as possible, rather than use the same methodology as the previous survey, so the two could be compared".

Lawyer, Tina Lawrence’s, comments are interesting and align with my thinking on this. Comparison between the 2018 and 2020 surveys reveals they made big changes to the design and methodologies. Tina says that (with a few additional comments from me) for the 2020 Kangaroo survey in Victoria it seems the number of human observers on the fixed wing component of the survey were doubled and that thermal cameras were used on the helicopter component. It appears that the thermal cameras detected 30 per cent more Kangaroos than the human observers in the previous 2018 survey, especially so in heavily wooded areas.

It also appears that a 20 per cent natural replacement rate, double that of the conventional wisdom under optimal conditions (itself inflated), was applied by the Victorian Government staff. All of which explains the increase of the population estimates in the face of the self-evident and significant decline in the populations of these animals.

The detail is this:

  • In 2018 – 2,968 permits were issued to kill 150,607 EGK / 11,252 WGK / 7,133 RK.
  • In 2019 – 2,213 permits were issued to kill 112,477 EGK / 13,952 WGK / 10,073 RK.
  • In 2020 the plans state permits would be issued to kill 125,100 EGK / 12,900 WGK Kangaroos (the Red Kangaroo had been removed from the commercial list so non-commercial ATCWs for this species are not included here but I fear the worst).

The WWF estimated that 5 million Kangaroos and Wallabies died in last summer’s fires in Australia. RM estimated that 20 per cent of these would be Kangaroo species, so that is one million Kangaroos, of which I have allocated a modest 200,000 to Victoria. In 2021 the Victorian Government plans to kill another 191,200 Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroos in Victoria, along with other species in the Kangaroo family not included here.

Add in the killing of around 90,000 joeys since the beginning of 2018, and that brings the results from permits issued / fires in the period 1/1/2018 – 31/12/2021 to 924,694 Kangaroos.

The Victorian Government tells us there are now 86 commercial Kangaroo shooters in Victoria (an FOI response received this week says 53 shooters?). On 15 March 2018 the Land Newspaper reported that there was little pay incentive for shooters to join Kangaroo Industry – I quote from the article:

“The biggest problem is there is no money in it,” Mr Mills said. “You can barely make a living.”
“Shaun Mills operates out of Packsaddle in western NSW, but at the end of the day he’s a low-income earner although he’s at the top of his game. He shoots about 7,500 Kangaroos a year, when the industry average per shooter is about 5,000 roos. It’s a hard, lonely life and he says he does it because he loves being out in the bush. But it’s hardly rewarding. The low returns point to why so many shooters have left the $200m-a-year kangaroo meat industry (the gross value of the industry in Australia is actually $25 million) and why no one wants to take harvesting up. The number of NSW commercial Kangaroo harvesters has declined dramatically from seven years ago from approximately 900 to 380 last year (slightly up from 2016). And it’s no wonder why. At the moment Mr Mills gets 70 cents a kilo for his Kangaroo carcase, which must be male and weigh over 15kg. He reckons if he got $1 a kilo then it would be a good living. His pay each year ends up at about $53,000 before tax, and then he has all the costs of tags ($1.17 each inNSW), harvest licence (about $900), petrol, guns and bullets. Because only male Kangaroos can be shot he has to move further and for longer to get his quarry. It’s no wonder the Kangaroo harvest quota is never met (the quota is about 15 per cent of the Kangaroo population, failing by nearly 90 per cent most years).”

So if our friends in NSW are correct, the calculations for Victoria, based on 5,000 animals are required each year / per shooter to make a reasonable living and cover expenses, are as follows, and for Victoria that translates to 430,000 Kangaroos required per annum, just to sustain the existing shooters – let alone the expansion of the industry the government in Victoria is promoting (remember that in 2020 the NSW commercial quota was 2,126,176, more than 22 times the newly announced Victorian quota).

Given that the Victorian Government clearly recognises this problem, the solution in their minds is to add value (never mind human health considerations) by marketing the meat for human consumption / utilising more of the Kangaroo (you can clearly see that now on supermarket shelves). The core problem still remains the overall Kangaroo population in Victoria.

This is clearly UNSUSTAINABLE. The next solution for the government will be to start pretending that other species are overabundant and add those to the list – that means the Red Kangaroo back on the commercial trade in wildlife list and the possibility of adding Wallaby species.

The economic case of Victoria is that the government is spending more on promoting and enabling the industry in Victoria each year, than the entire meat industry is worth - GMA / DELWP / Arthur Rylah / Consultants / Surveys / Politicians and staff and Parliamentary time consumed / DJPR / Permits and compliance – PrimeSafe / Conservation Regulator etc – the list of government costs is considerable and needs proper and detailed analysis. Interesting that all of them promote and enable the misinformation and do not respond to questions from those individuals and organisations who are concerned about what is going on here.

General comment on Kangaroo population estimates in Australia

For states outside Victoria, where large numbers of Kangaroos have been killed over a long period, my rule of thumb has been to estimate that Kangaroo numbers are typically exaggerated by a factor of 3 to 5 (this changes over time), sadly however, I no longer believe this to be the case for many of those places as take against quota dwindles. Symptoms of dramatic decline in populations include new regions being added as other shooting zones are being closed, new species added to the commercial list and the lower and lower take against quota. The very purpose of the quota being to limit excessive exploitation of a species.

Victoria is catching up fast to this scenario, as population estimates diverge more and more from actual populations. As the Victorian Government tries to encourage more and more shooters to commercially exploit Kangaroos, numbers of Kangaroos in the state are declining rapidly.

Shooting zones in Victoria

There is nowhere to hide.

Victoria's seven shooting zones (image courtesy Victorian Government)

I think this is a remarkable way for a government to think about the place it governs, the red bits are all shooting zones for the commercial trade in Australian wildlife. There are seven zones in total. The tiny grey bit is not a shooting zone. I would rank this as the worst bit of regional economic development I have seen anywhere in the world, lacking in any kind of imagination, modernity, compassion, honesty or concept. Money wise it is certainly a very big loser.

“Kangaroo numbers in the Mallee and North East harvest zones have dropped 20% and 17% respectively in 2020. This is reflected in the reduced 2021 quota in these zones to ensure harvesting is sustainable”.

What is already occurring in Victoria should set alarm bells ringing in the more densely populated parts of regional Victoria, including the Central Zone. The next two paragraphs are from the publication Kangaroo harvest quotas for Victoria, 2021 Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Technical Report Series No. 323.

“Kangaroo abundance in 2020 has increased by approximately 41 per cent (95 per cent CI; 22 per cent to 60 per cent) for Eastern Grey Kangaroo and 12 per cent (95 per cent CI; –3 per cent to 27 per cent) for Western Grey Kangaroo across the state, compared with the 2018 aerial survey. However, populations in both the Mallee and North East zones have declined, coinciding with a recent increased demand for Kangaroo control through ATCW permits in these zones. The level of off take in these zones has been greater than the 10 per cent currently recommended as sustainable, and hence the Kangaroo populations in these zones may be at some risk of over harvest if this level of off take continues. Consequently, no KHP quota has been recommended for the Mallee or the North East zone”.
“If a proportion of predicted ATCW control is not transferred to the KHP in the Mallee harvest management zone, no commercial harvest is recommended in this zone during 2021 to protect Western Grey Kangaroo populations in the region from potential over harvesting. Reducing harvest rates for Western Grey Kangaroos in the Upper and Lower Wimmera zones will not compensate for over harvesting in the Mallee zone, but it will mitigate the risks on the Western Grey Kangaroo population as a whole”.

A note on female Kangaroos and joeys

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.

The Victorian Code for the authorisation of commercial shooting explicitly states that (section 7): 

“Kangaroos with obvious dependent young must not be shot”.

No such thing has ever occurred in Victoria and female Kangaroos are being killed in ever greater numbers as the larger males are already gone (same as NSW etc). So in Victoria we also have – and they are not included in the numbers – a very large number of joeys being killed – so that takes out the next generation, perhaps the next two generations.

A note on New South Wales

It is useful to understand what is happening in New South Wales.

At the same time as the claims that populations are exploding in Victoria, the New South Wales Government is claiming its Kangaroo population has plummeted by 25.5 per cent. The New South Wales annual survey estimated there were 10.5 million animals in 2020, compared to 14 million in 2019. It is a significant collapse since a peak of 17 million was observed in 2016.

The ABC reports that,:

“A spokesman for the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE), which conducted the annual aerial survey, said the decline could "largely be attributed" to the impact of the drought”.

Nonsense of course and never mind the vast scale fires and the mass slaughter of these animals conducted by this government and its environment department.

The commercial quota for Kangaroos in NSW in 2020 was 2,126,176, up from 1,838,646 in 2019, the increase in quota despite the devastating fires in NSW, fires that shocked the world. The 2020 quota for NSW is made up of 564,137 Red Kangaroos, 1,408,964 Eastern Grey Kangaroos, 129,030 Western Grey Kangaroos and 24,045 Wallaroos.

What the NSW Government said in late 2019 

"In May 2018, just prior to the aerial surveys being conducted across the Western Plains, New South Wales was experiencing widespread agronomic drought conditions. As of 31 May 2018, 99 per cent of the State was covered by one of the three drought categories, with 39 per cent of the State in drought watch, 44 per cent in drought onset and 16 per cent in drought. (DPI 2018).
These seasonal conditions have resulted in a slight increase in populations of Eastern Grey Kangaroos and slight decrease in Western Grey Kangaroos and a large decrease in Red Kangaroos numbers across the Western Plains. For both Eastern Grey and Western Grey Kangaroos, there is 22.1 per cent and - 5.7 per cent change (about 708,256 and 47,349 respectively). Increase in Red Kangaroo populations 20.8 per cent (about 608,951)".

In poor taste: Volunteer non-commercial Kangaroo shooting in NSW

Given the industrial scale killing of Kangaroos in New South Wales and the anything goes possibilities that enable this killing, it is not surprising that Kangaroo populations in the state are reported as declining rapidly. The cruelty here will be beyond anything you can imagine.

In 2018, the New South Wales Government announced changes to non-commercial 'Kangaroo management', including initiatives to allow 'volunteer shooters' to support landholders in drought. These changes included the following weakening of any protection for these animals:

"Physical tags are no longer required, more than two shooters may operate under a landholder licence at any time; shooters no longer need to be listed on the landholder’s licence at the time of application and only need to be listed on landholder licence returns after culling operations; and finally Kangaroo carcasses may be removed for personal use (but not sold, swapped or traded)".


So what is actually going on here? Shooting very large numbers of Kangaroos combined with significantly exaggerated population numbers means the actual number of animals killed against quota gets ever lower. In the end the exaggerated numbers catch up with you and that is what has happened in New South Wales (and the population estimates are still too high) so they will have to lose another few million next year. The proof, as they say, is in the pet food can, and for New South Wales, the cans are looking pretty empty right now.

Victoria, as Kangaroo numbers in the state are much lower, will find that overstating population numbers will catch up with them very quickly - in the meantime Kangaroo populations in Victoria will be destroyed while they continue to pretend the opposite is occurring.