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Snapshot: Exploitation of Kangaroos and Wallabies in Tasmania

Life on land

“The Forester Kangaroo, which is in very deep trouble and should be listed as a threatened species is being exploited for commercial benefit. In light of this discovery my view is that the species is at great risk”.

Peter Hylands, Andrea Hylands

October 12, 2022

There are five remaining species in the ‘Kangaroo family’ in Tasmania, the Forester Kangaroo, Bennett's Wallaby, Tasmanian Pademelon, Eastern Bettong and the Long-nosed Potoroo, three species are exploited commercially​, it maybe the case that the diminutive Pademelon pictured above is also ending up as pet food. The very top landing image is of the Bennett's Wallaby, also exploited commercially for pet food.

Approved Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO) under Section 303FN of the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), thereby allowing Wallaby product taken to be exported to overseas markets. For the purpose:

  • 'Wallaby’ refers to both Macropus rufogriseus (Bennett’s Wallaby) and Thylogale billardierii (Tasmanian Pademelon).
  • ‘Products’ refers to meat, skins and fur (fibre removed from the skin).

It is also important to understand the Tasmanian permit system that allows the killing of native wildlife. Again this differs from other states and there is a need for Australia wide standardisation and reporting systems back to the Commonwealth Government so that the scale of what is occurring Australia wide can be measured and understood.

Property (Crop) Protection Permits

“The purpose of a Property Protection Permit is to prevent the destruction of, or injury to, any stock, crops and equipment or infrastructure used in the production of crops and stock caused by wildlife.  An owner or manager is required to hold a Property Protection Permit to poison, trap and shoot wildlife causing such damage”.

Species targeted by this permit type include Bennett's Wallaby, Tasmanian Pademelon, Forester Kangaroo, Brushtail Possum, Ringtail Possum and the Bare-nosed Wombat. A number of bird species are also on the list including duck, geese and parrot species.

Permits for different species are granted for different time periods depending on the species being targeted.

  • A combined five-year permit with no quota is issued for Bennett’s Wallaby, the Tasmanian Pademelon and the Brushtail Possum. Methods of killing are shooting / trapping / use of 1080 poison.

Individual permits are issued for other species.

  • Property Protection Permits the Forester Kangaroo are issued with tags allocated to the owner or manager, not the additional permit holders (hunters) operating under the permit. For the Forrester Kangaroo the period of the permits is described as various.
  • For Wombats the period of the permit is 12 months
  • For native bird species the period of the permit is 12 months

Permit holders are required to maintain an annual record of the wildlife taken under the permit, including that of their agent and any zero take. Take returns must be provided to the Department on an annual basis. Returns must be submitted to the Department within 28 days following the expiry of the permit.

Recreational Hunting Licences for Wallaby Species

Tasmania species that are hunted, trapped and used for commercial and recreational purposes include Bennett's Wallaby, Tasmanian Pademelon. Bird species include Brown Quail, Ringneck Pheasant, Short-tailed Shearwater, Black Duck, Chestnut Teal, Grey Teal, Mountain Duck and Wood Duck.

Wildlife Export Permits

There are two types of wildlife export permits:

  • Live animals, usually as pets or for exhibition in wildlife parks and zoos; and
  • Products of wildlife, including meat, fur and skins.

Impact of commercial exploitation

As Kangaroos vanish from mainland states, growing numbers of Tasmanian Wallabies are being exported to the mainland to be processed into pet food, New South Wales is just one market.

This will put even further pressure on Wallaby species in Tasmania and in a state, that when it comes to wildlife, is essentially lawless and the word 'protected' is meaningless..

In Tasmania, permits are issued to landholders on a property basis as mitigation permits, these can then be transitioned to commercial use.

Tasmania’s ‘Environment’ Department recommends the following methods for killing Wallabies:

  • Shooting to control Wallabies – effective shooting should be part of an integrated browsing management approach, which combined with fencing and other tools can provide great returns for your investment.
  • Trapping to control Wallabies – trapping is only effective for the Tasmanian Pademelons. It is not an effective tool for Bennett’s Wallabies which are very trap shy.
  • Using 1080 Poison to control Wallabies – when properly managed, 1080 poison can be used as a limited tool for the initial knock-down to get back on top of browser numbers before constructing Wallaby proof fencing and using ongoing alternate wildlife management tools.

The Forester Kangaroo is also in trouble from mass killing activities to 'manage' the species, a significant proportion of the animals killed end up as pet food. There are further risks to remnant populations from illegal killing for fun, risks from 1080 poison which is widely used to kill other wildlife species as well as a range of other threats.

In August 2021 the Tasmanian Government announced that it is developing a ‘Wildlife Impact Action Plan’ stating:

“The Tasmanian Government recognises the significant economic impact browsing wildlife can have on agriculture and forestry activities. We seek to get the balance right in supporting farmers, foresters and land managers in managing the impact of browsing wildlife on agricultural and forestry sectors while ensuring sustainability of wildlife species is maintained”.

So the boundaries are pushed ever further to the extreme as it becomes ever easier to justify the mass killing of wildlife. Balance is something that has never been a part of what has been done to wildlife in Tasmania, the history is a shocking one, so perfectly described by the Thylacine. For ‘browsing wildlife’ read code for an increased attack on Kangaroos and Wallabies – Wombats no doubt will also be a focus of the coming slaughter, as will Possum species.

Forester Kangaroo

Tasmanian’s Forester Kangaroo should be on the threatened species list and not in pet food shops, so cruelly turned into dog food. As usual the population numbers from government do not make sense, particularly given the extensive killing of the species and the combined threats described in the following paragraphs, which are dismissed.

Question to the Tasmanian Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage, Mr Gutwein:

“A 2001 report on management of Forester Kangaroos in Tasmania estimated the population then was 26,000 animals. The assessors recommended that no more than 10 per cent of the population from each region in Tasmania should ever be culled. On the Australian Government’s website, apparently from the early 2000s, the Forester Kangaroo was assessed as being not vulnerable on the basis that some 600 were culled each year in the Midlands and 60 in the north-east. Since 2014 a recent RTI from DPIPWE tells us a staggering 51,000 Forester Kangaroos have been allowed to be killed under crop protection permits issued by DPIPWE. That is nearly twice the number of the total estimated population. Do you have any idea what the current population of Forester Kangaroos is in Tasmania? When was the last comprehensive population survey conducted, including within each region?"Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP, Wednesday, 4 September 2019

For the Forester Kangaroo, commercial activity occurs as a result of the transitioning of damage mitigation permits to commercial use.

A survey of the species was conducted in 2019. Around 10,000 Forester Kangaroos are killed each year, around 4,500 of these are transitioned to commercial. The 2019 survey population estimates conducted by the Tasmanian Government gave a population of 30,000 – 40,000. These numbers look to me to be overstated given the mass killing in the last few years.

“Forester Kangaroos are protected wildlife under the Nature Conservation Act 2002. The abundance and distribution of Foresters declined by 90 (range or population?) per cent following European settlement. Populations of Foresters remain in several pockets of the Midlands and Northeast. Foresters occur primarily on private land resulting in conflict when browsing on crops and pastures”. Tasmanian Government.

The story of the Forester Kangaroo is no different to that of many of the other species of Macropod.

“The Forester Kangaroo suffered a massive decline in numbers between the early 1800s and the1950s, and now inhabits only ten per cent of its pre-European range. The original decrease in range was due to the shooting of Forester Kangaroos for human consumption and dog meat, which began with the arrival of white settlers in Tasmania in the early 1800s. This was exacerbated by the loss and fragmentation of habitat, due to clearing of land for agriculture. This practice has resulted in the isolation and reduction of populations, an ongoing process. Although the species’ status has improved since its lowest point in the 1950s, activities such as land clearance and poaching continue to threaten the viability of the Forester Kangaroo in Tasmania”. Tanner and Hocking, 2000

In 2005 the Forester Kangaroo was assessed for listing as threatened species by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, but was found to be ineligible (at that time advice to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage (Commonwealth) from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) on Amendments to the list of Threatened Species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) 1).

Forester Kangaroo: image courtesy Tasmanian Greens

The rejection statement from 2005 includes the following:

"The Forester Kangaroo is the largest of Tasmania’s marsupials. A male Forester Kangaroo can reach over two metres in height when fully upright and can weigh over 60kg. Their coat colour varies from light brownish grey to grey. They are social animals often seen in family groups of three or more and may occur in groups of more than ten. Forester Kangaroos reach breeding age at approximately 2-3 years and can live for over ten years.
Forester Kangaroos feed on grasses, herbs and forbs and their preferred habitat is dry sclerophyll forest with open grassland clearings. Forester Kangaroos now occur in three core areas: two in the Midlands area of Tasmania (Ross and Nile areas) and one in the north east corner of Tasmania.
In addition, there are four locations in Tasmania where Forester Kangaroo, following live trapping in the 1970s, have been relocated. They include two island locations (Maria Island and Three HummockIsland) and two locations on the Tasmanian mainland (Kempton and Narawntapu National Park (formerly Asbestos Range)).
Relocation activities ceased in the late 1970s and only four translocated populations remain. It is not clear to what extent these remaining translocated populations are currently considered to be a specific conservation program for the species. Limited culling continues to occur in island populations of Forester Kangaroo in order to combat over-population and disease. 
Since the late1970s, Forester Kangaroos have been culled under state Crop Protection Permits issued by the Tasmanian Director of Parks and Wildlife. The Forester Kangaroo is not listed under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995.The Forester Kangaroo is classified as ‘protected native wildlife’ under the Tasmanian Nature Conservation Act 2002".

The committee’s findings include the following:

"Recent threats: There are claims that a number of threats are currently impacting on the Forester Kangaroo including: habitat loss and degradation (specifically clearing of forest on private land), direct culling of Kangaroos (legal and illegal), competition with introduced herbivores (stock and other introduced animals), overstocking of grasslands, 1080 poisoned baiting, disease, road deaths, fences, and climate change.
The level of impact of these claimed threats is either not clear or minimal. For example, the strength of 1080 poison baits are usually not of sufficient dosage to killForester Kangaroos and deaths attributable to roads and fences are considered to be minimal.
Recent population trends: In the 1980s, regular monitoring of the population began. There were some declines in numbers in the 1980s, however, since the early 1990s the overall population has been increasing with the exception of some local declines.
Currently the total population of Forester Kangaroo is estimated at approximately 26,000 individuals. Of the 26,000, it is estimated that 30 per cent are yearlings. Therefore the number of mature individuals is no more than 18,000. The north-east population, with approximately 2,000 individuals, represents less than 8 percent of the total Forester Kangaroo population.
Due to conflict with agricultural practices, the Forester Kangaroo has been culled since 1976 under permit. Since 2000, approximately 600 Forester Kangaroos have been culled each year (to 2004) in the Midlands population and 60 in the north-east population.
The Forester Kangaroo is being actively managed to ensure its population numbers remain stable and it is evident that identified threatening processes are not impacting sufficiently on population numbers to cause an overall decline in numbers. While there may have been localised reductions in some locations, these are not significant across the entire population, which has increased in number since the early 1990s. In addition to its consideration of the Forester Kangaroo for listing under the Conservation Dependent category, the Committee also concluded that the Forester Kangaroo was not eligible for listing as either a Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable species at this time".

Since 2015 Forester Kangaroos have been killed in large numbers given their small population, returns received from landholders (these are the ‘legal’ killings):

  • 2015 – Forester Kangaroos; 200 permits / 9,295 Kangaroos
  • 2016 – Forester Kangaroos; 174 permits / 8,310 Kangaroos
  • 2017 – Forester Kangaroos; 170 permits / 7,932 Kangaroos
  • 2018 – Forester Kangaroos; 158 permits / 8,812 Kangaroos
  • 2019 – Forester Kangaroos; 75 permits / 1,315 Kangaroos (to August)
  • 2019 (August) to early 2022: 24,108

In the years 2015 through to August 2019, 35,664 Forester Kangaroos were killed under permit, about 21,000 of those were used commercial use. The number killed in the period roughly equals the Forester Kangaroo’s estimated population at the close of 2019.

For the period June 2019–2022 it appears that returns were received for:

  • Forester Kangaroo - 24,108

Exploitation of Wallabies in Tasmania

For Tasmania’s Wallabies, the story is also grim, mass killing is evident, including killing as a result of claims of exploding populations, which is of course nonsense and promotes the idea that species have benefited from the destruction of their habitat, mass and mechanised killing activity including 1080 baiting, shooting and trapping. Rates of ‘illegal’ wildlife killing in Tasmania are high.

Media reports suggest that 7,500 Tasmanians can hold a Wallaby licence in any one year with no limits to the numbers killed, that is an estimated 900,000 to 1,000,000 Pademelons and Bennett’s Wallabies being killed each year. Estimates are that around 2,000,000 native animals are killed annually by primary industry in Tasmania alone.

In a discussion with the Tasmanian Government in 2021, the government confirmed that over the last few years an average of about 500,000 Wallabies were killed in Tasmania each year with about 10 per cent of these animals being transitioned to commercial. The commercial share will have increased significantly and that drives further exploitation of species.

“An explosion in Wallaby numbers across Tasmania has farmers and game meat suppliers calling fora new approach to managing the animals, ­including potential for an expanding wild meat industry. Irrigation development across Tasmania and years of good vegetation growth have created an “all-you-can-eat buffet” for Wallabies, which are breeding in record numbers, according to farmers. We are in discussions with the Government about removing unnecessary red tape that makes it difficult for farmers to commercially use these pests”. Mercury, June 2014

The scenes of the slaughter emerging from Tasmania are reminiscent of the photos of old with the colonists posing next to piles of dead Kangaroos and Wallabies.

Exploitation of Wallabies in Tasmania

Here are the actual figures from the Tasmanian Government from land holder returns received:

  • 2015 – Bennett’s Wallaby and Pademelon (includes Brushtail Possum): 2,835 permits / 1,085,835 animals.
  • 2016 – Bennett’s Wallaby and Pademelon (includes Brushtail Possum): 1,768 permits / 556,090 animals.
  • 2017 – Bennett’s Wallaby and Pademelon (includes Brushtail Possum): 275 permits / 156,606 animals.
  • 2018 – Bennett’s Wallaby and Pademelon (includes Brushtail Possum): 531 permits / 43,863 animals.
  • 2019 (to August 2019) – Bennett’s Wallaby and Pademelon (includes Brushtail Possum): 531permits / 14,565 animals.
  • Totals in the period 2019 (August) to early 2022 – Bennett’s Wallaby 1,176,002 and Pademelon 1,088,117.

For the period June 2019–2022 it appears that returns were received for:

  • Tasmanian Pademelon - 1,088,117.
  • Bennett’s Wallaby - 1,176,002; and
  • Brushtail Possum - 530,487.

The 1999 commercial trade in Wallabies totalled 21,000 animals (Pademelons and Bennett’s Wallabies), down from 300,000 in 1984. From 1999 onwards, it has been difficult to find the data on commercial activities ‘because the Commonwealth Government had not issued export permits’ (see below).

As an indication of the scale of killing of these animals, on the Tasmanian Islands of Flinders and King for permits issued in the period 1 July 2005 to 30 June 2009, commercial killing quotas for the two species of Wallaby were set at 87,750. The commercial quota and the non-commercial quota combined for the period, was a staggering 217,500.

The Tasmanian Government goes on to say:

“Commercial and non-commercial Wallaby harvest quotas for Tasmania (1 July 2007 – 30 June 2008) The Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water decided to withdraw its harvest quota submission for 2007-08 when it became apparent that there was a lack of export market demand for Wallaby products. Both non-commercial and commercial harvesting for the domestic market did occur during 2007-08, but no harvest quotas were approved under the EPBC Act. Consequently, no Wallaby products harvested in the 2007-08 quota period could be exported”.

In June 2017, Josh Frydenberg, Minister for the Environment and Energy at that time. Approved the Proposal for the Commercial Harvest and Export of Products Obtained from Wallabies in Tasmania (the operation) as an approved wildlife trade operation for the purposes of section 303FN of the EPBC Act.

What is particularly troubling is that Wallaby body parts from Tasmania are now being sold in pet food shops in Melbourne – so the commercial trade in Tasmanian wildlife is back with a vengeance.

Landing image Bennett's Wallaby: Florence and Joseph McGinn. Image of Pademelon, Gerhard Koertner. Forester Kangaroo image courtesy Greens Tasmania.