How many: The commercial exploitation of Kangaroos?
Life on land
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Here we look at the actual reported take for the three years 2020 to 2022 and quotas for 2023. The data is taken from Australian State Government documents, which include annual population and quota reports which are published by all mainland states who choose to support and enable the exploitation of land-based Australian wildlife.
Note that Tasmania does not publish these reports and tends to fly under the radar, despite three species of Kangaroo and Wallaby being exploited for commercial purposes, a large number of which have been exported to New South Wales for processing.
Joeys, despite the denials which are false, are killed as required by commercial permits by bludgeoning to death or by decapitation, a process which is intensely cruel. Joeys are not counted in the official numbers but as the percentage take of female Kangaroos continues to increase, the numbers of joeys being killed is now very significant and has a severe impact on future populations. In Victoria in 2022 the ratio of female to joeys killed were 1 joey was killed for every 1.2 females killed, so almost one to one.
The combined state government Kangaroo population estimates for mainland Australia in 2023 (2022 survey data) total 36,554,240 and as a result the commercial quota for Kangaroos in 2023 is 5,132,148. The increase in population over the previous year is estimated at 5,648,313 and the quota has increased by 739,631 over the previous year. We should remember that that the total actual commercial take achieved in 2022 was just over one million and the increase in quota for 2023 is not that far away from the entire take in 2022.
Given that the quotas are meant to be a sustainable cap and the commercial take is running at around 20 per cent of quota, this should set alarm bells ringing for all Australian Environment Ministers (there are lots of them). Expect the actual take against quota in 2023 to be between 18 and 19 per cent. And that is an indicator that something is very wrong here.
The analysis was updated on 6 June 2023 following the release of actual data for 2022 from Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia. I had estimated the full year actual commercial take for these three states, as it turned out these estimates (see table below) were very close to actuals, the difference being 23,213 more animals killed for commercial gain than my previous estimate. For New South Wales an additional 27,719 Kangaroos were killed for commercial gain than previously forecast, bringing the total actual take in 2022 to 1,079,115. This number does not include Tasmania which is unknown and not accounted for in the Commonwealth Government data or state quotas.
One of the oddest features of the 2023 state data is that Victoria (two species commercially exploited) is claiming a larger Kangaroo population than Western Australia (two species commercially exploited), a state several times the size of Victoria. This has never happened before. Claims from the South Australian Government of very significant increases in the targeted commercial species in that state, in one case a ninefold increase, are beyond any credibility. I have raised these issues with the South Australian Environment Minister.
*SA Government full year estimate, actual to 31 October was 80,069 (19 per cent). Full year actual was 100,896, 22 per cent of the quota
**Measured from WA graph, awaiting actual data. Actual data received 30/4/2023. Actual take against quota in 2022 was 82,154 against original state quota of 375,410. That is 22 per cent of quota.
***Victoria - estimate of full year from nine month trend in table above, actual figure reported 5 June 2023 was 68,346, 53.5 per cent of original quota
****Estimate added for Tammar Wallaby, South Australian Government population estimate not discovered at time of creating table, the estimate we now have gives the Tammar's population on Kangaroo Island as 384,671, so this increases the South Australian population of commercially exploited species shown in the table above. 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
There are currently eight species of Kangaroo and Wallaby being exploited for commercial gain. These are:
This is a supply driven issue and NOT, as claimed, a demand driven issue. That is, the Kangaroos do not exist in the numbers each government claims, or are at such low population densities that commercial exploitation of the Kangaroos is not viable. As shooters can never get anywhere near the state wide quotas, they shoot everything they can get.
The 2023 New South Wales commercial Kangaroo quota report gives the population of Grey and Red Kangaroos in just two shooting zones as 2,965,948 animals. This comprises in the Broken Hill shooting zone of 1,746,169 Red Kangaroos and 211, 832 Grey Kangaroos, with a combined per square kilometer density of 21.5 Kangaroos. For the Lower Darling shooting zone the report claimed a population of 667,099 Red Kangaroos and 340,884 Grey Kangaroos, with a combined per square kilometer density of 17.8 Kangaroos.
In six days of searching these shooting zones, at last and towards the end of our time there, we discovered one living Kangaroo. So, where there is an estimated population of just under 3 million Kangaroos, we counted just one living Kangaroo.
As a general rule, the longer commercial exploitation of Kangaroos has occurred in a given place, the lower the actual take against quota. For example, South Australia has a very low take against quota as the commercial exploitation of Kangaroos has been both extensive and long term. Because the government's population estimates are far too high, the risk now for a given zone or species, is that quotas exceed the actual remaining populations.
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.
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.
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 is 19 per cent of quota and projections from the South Australian Government were that the full year actual take against quota would be 23 per cent.
Victoria, which is a relative newcomer to this activity, still has a higher actual take against quota, but the percentage take is falling and declines in take will increase rapidly in the next few years as Victoria cannot geographically expand into new shooting zones as other states have done, as wherever Kangaroos exist in the state, these places have already been designated as a commercial shooting zone.
There is a relationship between actual take against quota and population estimate by species, so say the actual take against quota is between 10 and 20 per cent of quota in a given region - ongoing, even this dwindling take against quota is only achieved by tricks like prey switching - adding new species to the commercial list; ie. South Australia adding 3 new species, killing more and more females and zone extensions. Following zone extensions, New South Wales are already trying to creep into non-shooting zones (more populous areas) and in Victoria, no zone extensions are possible as the whole state, minus a couple of very small bits, including the Melbourne CBD, is a shooting zone.
Shockingly, Victoria has no minimum size for Kangaroos that can be used commercially for pet food. So for Victoria, any extension of the commercial exploitation of Kangaroos is National / State Parks and adding more species (yet again the Red Kangaroo is increasingly in danger). Victoria, unlike most other states, does not even have the option of reducing the weights of the Kangaroos that can be exploited.
In Tasmania it is now about going after tiny Pademelons (now extinct in Victoria) and secretive transition of permits to commercial for the fast vanishing Forester Kangaroo (the Forester will become extinct if things don’t change).
So it very much looks like all the states are running out of Kangaroos and the Victorian Government has backed itself into a corner, from which, it will find it impossible to extract itself.
The quotas and actuals for the commercial exploitation of Kangaroos and Wallabies for the period 1991 to 1994 are as follows:
For the years 1995 and 1996 the actual number of Kangaroos and Wallabies killed for commercial gain exceeded 3 million.
The serial decline of take when the 1994 and 2022 actuals are compared is evident with the 2022 actual take being just 31per cent of that in 1994. The damage done to Kangaroo populations across the Continent is further described by the fact that shooting zones have expanded significantly, including the addition of the whole state of Victoria. Even this expansion has failed to stop the decline in actual take.
Our estimate for 2022 is that around 350,000 dependant young Kangaroos died in Australia as a direct consequence of the commercial exploitation of these animals. The death of these young is not accounted for in the government published commercial trade data for any year. Death would have occurred by beating to death, decapitation or starvation and predation.
In the paper The welfare ethics of the commercial killing of free-ranging Kangaroos: an evaluation of the benefits and costs of the industry published by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare in 2014, the authors estimate:
In the ten year period 2000-2009 the number of young at foot killed was 2,107,855, the number of pouched young was 5,902,007 from a total of breeding females killed of 8,431,438.
The yearly average for the number of young at foot killed in the ten year period was 210,786, the number of pouched young was 590,201.
An assumption used in making these calculations for the commercially exploited species were that 30 per cent of Kangaroos killed are females, except for Wallaroos that are 10 per cent female.
Table 2 shows the number of female Kangaroos killed for commercial gain in 2021 by state and species. Again this shows that around 30 per cent of the animals killed (excluding joeys) were female. Note: Actual take for year varies slightly from table 1 where numbers were derived directly from state reports, while table 2 uses Commonwealth Government data.
Figure 1 gives the value of Kangaroo and Wallaby meat exports for the period 2001 to 2023. Figure 2 gives the weight of these exports. While the export of Kangaroo products has been contentious with closure of markets including Russia for health reasons, exports have to a large degree been replaced by demand from the Australian pet food industry. It is near impossible to escape the displays of meat and other Kangaroo body parts marketed as treats, including ears, in shops in Australia, including pet food stores and supermarkets.
Sadly, Kangaroos have become a cheap wild meat substitute for meat sourced from farm animals. Thinking this through, particularly given the declining take (because the Kangaroos are gone), it seems to be a waste of public funds that the Australian Government appears to spend so much on trying to develop new markets for this grim and cruel trade when demand for Kangaroo meat and other products in the local market is high and is consuming an increasing share of output.
Most recent value of total Kangaroo meat exports (ABS expressed in 2012 $ value):
Figure 3 compares the value of Kangaroo and Wallaby meat and skin exports. The data for skins post 2012 appears not to be available and we think the data is now included in another category which includes hides of other species as well.
If we can believe the government’s data then it shows significant declines in the volume and value of Kangaroo and Wallaby exports.
Gross value of production definition
“Historically, the gross value of production is the value placed on recorded production at the wholesale prices realised in the marketplace. The point of measurement can vary between commodities. Generally the marketplace is the metropolitan market in each state and territory. However, where commodities are consumed locally or where they become raw material for a secondary industry, these points are presumed to be the marketplace. Prices used in these calculations exclude GST. More recently, the gross value of production is calculated using gross prices realised at the point(s) of valuation where ownership of the commodity is relinquished by the agricultural sector. For example, fruit can be sold into the fresh fruit market, to factories for processing and/or is exported”. ABARES
Gross value of production by year, meat and hides – 2012-2022 (Australian dollars)
Export value per kilo (FOB) 2022
In 2022 Australia exported 1,792,510 kilos of Kangaroo meat at a total value of Australian $10,448,354 giving a per kilo FOB export price of $5.83.
Gross value of export share 2022
Gross value of share of exports (estimate from figures in this analysis using the 2022 actual commercial take) was $1,980,000. This would mean that just 6.6 per cent of all Kangaroos killed for commercial purposes were exported for their meat products, describing the dominance of the pet food processing industry in Australia.
We can conclude by saying, that if the various Australian State Governments and its Commonwealth Government do not put a stop to this cruel conduct, in which all are deeply complicit, the end will come when there are so few Kangaroos left in Australia that any idea of commercially exploiting them will have become a fantasy. That will then be a tragedy for the whole world and something that is terribly hard to contemplate.
That time is not that far away.