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Snapshot: Commercial exploitation of Kangaroos in South Australia

Life on land

“Adding new species and regions is a very clear sign that there are no longer enough of the main commercially exploited species to make commercial activities properly viable”.

Peter Hylands, Andrea Hylands

May 21, 2023

Six species of Kangaroo and Wallaby are now killed commercially in South Australia, the Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroo, the Sooty Kangaroo from Kangaroo Island, the Kangaroo Island Tammar Wallaby, the Red Kangaroo and the Euro. 

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 is estimated at 23 per cent.

This is evidence of serial decline as shooters kill everything they can get.

There needs to be a proper investigation by the Commonwealth Government regarding the conduct here. There is clearly something very wrong.

Shooting zones

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.

"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".

Population surveys

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.

2022: Commercial exploitation

The commercial Kangaroo quotas for 2022 were released on 31December (the usual attempt at releasing information to the public during a holiday period in the hope no one will notice).

Given that the population data had not indicated a high abundance of any Kangaroo species, no High Abundance Quota was issued for 2022. The Special Land Management Quota for 2022 was set at 1.5 per cent of the total estimated population for each species.

Populations of Euros had fallen below the low population threshold in North Flinders, Marree Eastern Districts, North East Pastoral and Gawler Ranges; for the Red Kangaroo in Marla, Oodnadatta, Marree and North East Pastoral and for the Western Grey Kangaroo in Eastern Districts, Gawler Ranges, Kingoonya and North East Pastoral.

Population estimates underpinning 2022 quotas (2021 survey)

Red Kangaroo: The population estimate for this species across all shooting zones was 1,387,013, an increase of 18 per cent from the previous year when the estimate was 1,178,888 and 23 per cent lower than the 20-year rolling average of 1,806,873.

"The young Red Kangaroo joeys leave the pouch for the last time at about 34 weeks; Grey Kangaroo joeys fully emerge from the pouch at about 44 weeks; the young animal 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" Peter Hylands

Wester Grey Kangaroo: The population estimate for all shooting zones (excluding the Southern Agricultural shooting zone) was 752,185, an 11 per cent decrease from the 2020 population estimate of 846,127 and 28 percent below the 20-year rolling average of 1,051,337. The estimated population of this species in the Southern Agricultural shooting zone was 228,094, an increase of 8 per cent from the 2020 population estimate of 208,811.

Sooty Kangaroo (Kangaroo Island): The population estimate for this species was 41,781 Kangaroos. The population estimate in 2020 was 43,540. A quota of 10 per cent of the population estimate has been set to allow the Kangaroo population time to recover after the 2019/2020 bushfires. (Comment from Peter Hylands – strange that the population estimates describe so little ongoing impact on the population following the catastrophic fires on Kangaroo Island).

Eastern Grey Kangaroo: The population estimate for this species was 20,933 across the Lower South East sub-region, a 40 per cent decrease from the 2020 population estimate. A quota of 12% of the population estimate has been set for Eastern Grey Kangaroos for 2022.

Tammar Wallaby (Kangaroo Island): Wallabies were surveyed during 2021, however data collected was not used. The raw number of Wallabies observed was similar to the number observed during 2020, therefore the previous estimate was used again to set the 2022 quota. As in 2020, a reduced quota for wallabies has been set at 7 per cent of the population estimate to allow the population to continue to recover post fire. In 2020 the quota for the Tammar Wallaby was 8,700, none were killed for commercial benefit. In 2021 the quota was 2,900, again none were killed for commercial benefit.

2021: Commercial exploitation

South Australia demonstrates some of the worst features of the commercial exploitation of Kangaroos in Australia and is a pointer to why this activity should be closed down, as what goes on is far from sustainable.

Kangaroos are not ‘harvested as claimed (marketing spin), nor, and it is particularly the case in South Australia, have Kangaroos benefited from European settlement. The evidence for which points to precisely the opposite. The increasing proportion of female Kangaroos being killed (joeys are also killed in the cruellest ways, blunt force or decapitation, or they starve).

Killing females and their young

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.

The proportion of females being killed is increasing sharply and is yet another indicator that what is occurring cannot be sustainable. 

Actuals against quota

A total of 67,971 Kangaroos were killed for commercial gain in the first eight months of 2021 (1 January 2021 to 31 August 2021), just 17 per cent of the combined quota (407,000). Based on killing rates, the projected kill for 2021 for all species is 99,745.

By year end 98,073 Kangaroos (22 per cent) out of the full year quota of 449,200 Kangaroos had been killed for commercial purposes.

By species, for the Red Kangaroo 20 per cent of quota was achieved, for the Western Grey Kangaroo 26 per cent of the quota was achieved (higher due to opening of new commercial shooting regions), for the Euro, 13 per cent of the quota was achieved, for the Eastern Grey (from a very small base and a newly added species) 98 per cent of the quota of 5,700 animals was achieved.

Years of over exploitation of the Red Kangaroo is now evident

“Prior to the expansion of the commercial ‘harvest’ area in January 2020, Red Kangaroos were consistently the largest ‘harvest’ of the three Kangaroo species. However, since the opening of new areas in the southern parts of South Australia, the ‘harvest’ of Western Grey Kangaroos has been increasing. During 2021, the harvest of Western Grey Kangaroos exceeded that of Red Kangaroos, with 42,063 Kangaroos being harvested”.

Gross value in 2021

The gross value of the activity described is 2021 is estimated at approximately AUD 3 million. In South Australia, given the long distances involved, the carbon cost per dollar value of the activity will be extremely high because of the carbon intense transport and storage etc, as is the cost to the tax payer of subsidising and defending this exploitation.

2020: Commercial exploitation

“South Australia’s Kangaroo commercial harvest zone will be expanded, and the 2020 quota has been set to help manage Kangaroos, as well as support primary producers. The Kangaroo commercial harvest zone will be expanded from South Australia’s pastoral area to cover Yorke Peninsula, Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu Peninsula, South East and Kangaroo Island".
“The species of Kangaroo available for commercial harvest will include three new species, Tammar Wallaby, Kangaroo Island sub-species of Western Grey Kangaroo (Sooty Kangaroo) (until recently listed as threatened) and Eastern Grey Kangaroo (note from Peter Hylands – classified as rare in South Australia until they decided to kill them commercially), as well as the existing species of Red Kangaroo, Western Grey Kangaroo and Euro.” Government of South Australia

In South Australia, the 2020 commercial quota for all Kangaroo species was 518,600 Kangaroos across the entire expanded harvest zone, representing a 477 per cent increase on the actual number exploited commercially in 2018.

"This quota for 2020 is less than the 2019 quota of 730,200 and reflects the reduced population estimates as a result of the current dry conditions”. Government of South Australia

A total of 74,027 Kangaroos were killed for commercial purposes during the first eight months of 2020.  This represents 14 percent of the combined commercial Kangaroo quota for the year. The projected kill in 2020 for all species was then 108,609. This was 21 per cent of the combined quotas.

By the end of the year the commercial exploitation of Kangaroos in South Australia accounted for 98,962 animals, (note this figure also included the Special Land Management Quota).

This figure represents 19 per cent of the approved quota of 532,400. No Tammar Wallabies were killed and the actual take against quota for the Euro was just 7 per cent.

More nonsense from the ABC in South Australia:

“Surveyors will take to the skies over South Australia from today to determine how many Kangaroos the state should cull, with some communities saying it is obvious booming populations need to be cut back”. ABC,15 June 2020

2020 Kangaroo population estimates

In 2020 the estimated Red Kangaroo population in all commercial zones in South Australia (including the expanded zones as of 1January 2020) was 1,178,888, a decrease of 24 per cent from the previous year total of 1,552,679 and 24 per cent lower than the long-term survey data average of 1,545,893 (1999-2019 data from model estimates).

The estimated population of the Western Grey Kangaroo in all commercial zones (including the expansions to Mallee and Yorke Mid North sub-regions but excluding Southern Agricultural region) is 846,127, a 22 per cent decrease from the 2019 population estimate of 1,085,193 and 28 per cent below the long-term average of 1,180,479 (1999-2019 data from model estimates). The population in the new Southern Agricultural zone was estimated at 208,811, a decrease of 24 per cent from the 2019 population estimate of 276,183.

In 2020 the estimated population for the Euro in all commercial zones was 517,108, a decrease of 9 per cent from the 2019 estimate of 570,021 and 8 per cent above long- term average of 479,078 (1999 -2019). For the Eastern Grey Kangaroo surveys show a large drop in population compared to the 2019 estimate at 61,826 Kangaroos.

The following comments from the South Australian Government regarding Kangaroo Island populations are both very revealing and very odd, particularly given their comments in 2022 described earlier.

"For the Kangaroo Island (Sooty) Western Grey Kangaroo aerial surveys found that Kangaroos were spread across the island, although fewer were present in the burnt areas. Compared to the 2019, the 2020 survey indicates a 34 per cent reduction in the Sooty Kangaroo population on Kangaroo Island. For the Tammar Wallaby (Kangaroo Island sub species) the survey gives a population estimate showing a reduction in population of approximately 40 per cent post fire".

2019: Commercial exploitation

In 2019, the commercial Kangaroo kill in South Australia for all species was 99,289. This figure was 13 per cent of the approved quota of 752,100 (including the Special Land Management Quota).

The highest recorded annual take against quotas achieved are 555,000 for Red Kangaroos (1997), 280,000 for Western Grey Kangaroos (1997), and 103,000 for Euros (1997). The Kangaroo populations have never recovered from this killing spree.

Two stories with two very different propositions

In response to a South Australian Government Tender advertising for a Kangaroo Partnership Coordinator the Adelaide Advertiser (19/8/2021) claimed Kangaroo population blow-out ‘only a matter of time’.

“Fencing and cutting off water access and eating them. SA’s Kangaroo population is headed towards another explosion in numbers – and we need a plan now”.

Here all the Kangaroo spin is compressed in one paragraph, all of it complete nonsense. The South Australian Government tender document states:

“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 maximize harvesting outcomes for both economic and environmental outcomes can be more fully realized”.

All of it complete nonsense, so why do they do it?

Meanwhile at the Inquiry into the Health and well being of Kangaroos and other Macropods in New South Wales (19/8/2021) a witness for the New South Wales Government’s Biodiversity Conservation Division, Environment, Energy and Science Group, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, an organisation sadly at the forefront of enabling and promoting commercial exploitation of Kangaroos and the importing of Wallabies from Tasmania stated:

“Most shooters will shoot for body size, but it depends on the density of the population. I did some work years ago in the north-west of the South Australian pastoral zone where shooters would shoot anything that moved because the density of the populations were so low and, really, it was almost an uneconomical activity”.

Sooty Kangaroo, Kangaroo Island

From the Museum of South Australia archive 1927 (The Sooty Kangaroo is yet another species being commercially exploited today, severely impacted by catastrophic fires, that should be on the threatened species list).

The story from 1927

“The Sooty Kangaroo still exists in some thousands on Kangaroo Island and fortunately it is probable that half the Kangaroo population is living on the reserve of Flinders chase, which consists of some 200 square miles a broken bush covered country at the western end of the island. Outside the reserve the legislation only grants the animal partial protection, the open season being from April 1st to September 30th. The lack of total protection is much to be regretted.
During the open season the Kangaroos are killed very freely. In 1922 two men slaughtered 600 on a rather limited holding, and during the present season, 300 more were killed at the same place. These animals are skinned for the leather trade. Although its existence appears assured within the sanctuary of Flinders chase, the indiscriminate slaughter of this fine animal on other parts of the island is much to be deplored. It is hoped the full measure of protection will one day be accorded to the species throughout the whole of its island home”.

The history of this species is a curious one, Flinders gives a good account of it as he saw it on 22 March 1802 and Peron, who visited Kangaroo Island between 27 December 1802 and 1 February 1803, adds many details of interest concerning it. Peron took specimens to Paris, and in 1817, Desmarest described these specimens and named the animal. Gould in 1863 expressed his doubts that the animal was still living on Kangaroo Island, and in 1871 Krefft stated that it was no longer to be found there.

A systematic extermination

“Once Kangaroos are ‘harvested’, carcasses are field dressed and placed into a chiller box (refrigerated container) until sold to a Kangaroo meat processor in SA. Chillers may be ‘fixed’ or ‘mobile’. Fixed chillers are generally pantechs (trailers) that remain at one location for a long period of time. Mobile chillers are refrigerated trucks that can be easily moved at little cost. Mobile chillers can travel to areas with high Kangaroo numbers for a short period of time before moving on to another area. Field processors with mobile chillers may be willing to take up harvest opportunities in areas without fixed chiller boxes, especially where high Kangaroo numbers are impacting on total grazing pressure”. Department of Environment and Water, Government of South Australia

Conservation status

The trick in Australia is to try to rewrite history, that is rewrite the distribution maps of species as populations have dwindled, at the same time pretending that populations of animals such as the Macropod species have benefited from colonialisation and the destruction of their habitat, their populations exploding.  This is of course complete nonsense.

Regional extinctions are also commonplace as the range (distribution) of a species contracts and fragments. This self-deception means that conservation status listing of Australian species is not keeping up with the rapid decline of the species that live on the Australian Continent, the politics involved in listing species includes influencing outcomes, this is particularly evident when it comes to Kangaroo, Possum and Parrot species.

Different rules in different states and territories

So in South Australia you can rescue young Kangaroos, the pouch dependent joeys, but if you do, you must keep them for the rest of their lives. So no release back to the wild. Adult Kangaroos, say if they are stranded somewhere, can be relocated and released back into the wild.


South Australia has an appalling record of native species endangerment and extinctions, the driest state on the continent might not be the brightest. Things need to change. 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.

NOTE: South Australia flipped to a Labor Government and female Environment Minister in March 2022.