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Unpleasant histories: Mass killing of Kangaroos in Victoria’s National Parks

Life on land

“This attempt at defining the horrific scale of the killing is timely given the Victorian Government's plans to commence commercial exploitation of Australian wildlife in its public lands in 2025”.

Peter Hylands

February 27, 2024

The same findings apply regarding Kangaroo population estimates inside the parks system. They appear to be overstated by a very big margin.

The Victorian Government says it targets 10 per cent of the Kangaroo population per annum. Overstate the population, then the reality is that a far greater percentage of animals are being killed and this cannot be sustainable.

In the three national parks discussed here, killing has been so intense, despite the endless warnings, that there are now very few Kangaroos in these parks. The Victorian Government is well on the way to exterminating the Red Kangaroo in the state and the Western Grey Kangaroo will not be that far behind. We know that when the commercial exploitation of Kangaroos was introduced into Victoria (fully in late 2019) the killing rate increased fivefold.

Therefore, the mass killing of Kangaroos in National and State Parks needs to stop and the last thing that is needed now is the additional pressure of commercial exploitation. It is appalling that the Victorian Government would even consider it.

The terrible reality is that the mass killing continued despite the catastrophic floods and fires of the last four years. All of it, based on misguided thinking and a lack of any proper investigation to stop what is occurring. The attitudes plainly expressed here:

“These changes are great steps forward, so there is a great steps forward though there is still a great divide between the Red (Kangaroos) target and the Red achieved, this is not the case for Western Greys”.

This story uses the Victorian Government’s own numbers following detailed research, even so, some years remain a mystery.

Here we look at what went on in just three National Parks, the Wyperfeld National Park, the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park and the Murray Sunset National Park.

We know each of them and have visited each in the recent period. Despite detailed searches we did not find any Kangaroos and talking to the rangers at the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, they told us if we wanted to see Kangaroos we should go to the local airport. They also said they did not believe the government’s population estimates for Kangaroos in the parks.

Murray Sunset National Park, Kangaroos are very very hard to find

In my early attempts at asking the government for numbers we received the response set our below (extract) and similar responses during telephone calls. The claim (under FO legislation) was that they did not have the information we sought in relation to National and State Parks and asked us to be specific, including providing post codes, we did that and got silly results.

Then we found a report which stated that there was indeed detailed information relating to the number of Kangaroos targeted and actually killed in State and National Parks (the iextract from one response from the former Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP):

"You have also requested for documents specifically relating to “National and State Parks and other public lands in Victoria”. This phrase is very broad and effectively includes land managed by Parks Victoria, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), other departments, water authorities and/or committees of management. The department’s system for the administration of ATCWs may or may not include the organisational details of the authorisation holder.  Therefore, a manual search of all applications received by individual DELWP offices from January 2019 would need to be conducted in order to identify if it was issued to an employee or agent operating on behalf of Parks Victoria.  
Similarly, the department’s electronic system does not distinguish between authorisations issued for control of wildlife on public or private land nor does it readily set out the reasons for the application of each ATCW. A manual review of each application for an ATCW would need to be undertaken to assess if the proposed activity was to occur on public land or to determine the reason for the application.
It is possible that the department may be able to create a document containing the information that you seek under section 19 of the FOI Act if the information is able to be extrapolated utilising the reporting function of the department’s system used to record ATCWs. The reporting function can generate reports setting out:
Species, number of permits issued, maximum number of animals authorised for control within a defined date range. Species, number of permits issued, maximum number of animals authorised for control within a defined date range within a specified local government area or postcode. Current ATCW Permit Details by municipality showing the DELWP region where the authorisation is to occur, the expiry date of the permit, the authorised control method, species to be controlled and the maximum number of animals authorised for control".

Hattah-Kulkyne National Park sign, pity the Victorian Government does not read it

Following further investigations this is what we know

  • The killing in the Mallee Parks looks as if it began in 1984 when 787 Western Grey Kangaroos were killed in the National Parks. This mass killing was met with a significant public outcry at that time, which we remember well, and we were shocked by the killing. The strength of the opposition to the ‘cull’ was so strong that no further killing took place until 1990.
  • During the period 1990 to 1994, 15,000 Kangaroos were killed in these three parks, relatively modest in terms of what was yet to come under Victoria’s Labor Government.
  • Terrible drought conditions in Victoria in the period 1994 to 1998 appear to have stopped the killing in that period. Then to 2003 we have not been able to find the data.
  • In 2004, 2,445 Kangaroos were targeted in the parks, 1,345 of these were Red Kangaroos.
  • In 2005, 7,850 Kangaroos were targeted in the parks, 1,750 of these were Red Kangaroos. 2006 was a drought year so we assume no killing took place.
  • In 2007, 4,550 Kangaroos were targeted in the parks, 450 of these were Red Kangaroos.
  • In 2008, 5,050 Kangaroos were targeted in the parks, 1,150 of these were Red Kangaroos.
  • In 2009, 450 Kangaroos were targeted in the parks, none of these were Red Kangaroos. 2010 to 2012 were drought years and it appears no killing took place.
  • In 2013, 9,900 Kangaroos were targeted in the parks, 4,150 of these were Red Kangaroos.
  • In 2014, 2075 Kangaroos were targeted in the parks, 450 of these were Red Kangaroos.
  • In 2015, 7,325 Kangaroos were targeted in the parks, 2,450 of these were Red Kangaroos.
  • In 2016, 21,129 Kangaroos were targeted in the parks, 10,680 of these were Red Kangaroos.
“In 2016, Parks Victoria removed a total of 9,216 Kangaroos from the North West parks over 30 nights between April and August. This accounted for 44 per cent of the overall target of 21,129”.
  • In 2017, 7,021 Kangaroos were targeted in the parks, 5,105 of these were Red Kangaroos. Here is the chilling language from the Victorian Government in that year:
“Parks Victoria remove the total of 2,150 Kangaroos from the north-west parks over 12 nights in May 2017 under ATCW permits. This accounted for 31 per cent of the overall target of 7,021. The target was achieved for Western Grey Kangaroos but only 6 per cent of the target was achieved for Red Kangaroos. Achieving the targets for Red Kangaroos was difficult due to significantly high target numbers the time between survey and culling meant many Kangaroos had moved on to other areas and culling during colder weather was less effective due to Kangaroo inactivity”.
  • Currently I do not have information relating to the intervening years.
  • In 2020, 8,162 Kangaroos were targeted in the parks, a significant percentage were Red Kangaroos. For 2021 we do not have the data at this time. Remember that his was a time of the most severe bush fires on record, include drought and then severe floods.
  • In 2022, 10,148 Kangaroos were targeted in the parks, 7,440 of these were Red Kangaroos. These animals were killed under ATCW permit numbers 14973758, 14973813 and 14973795.
“Again in the parks, following analysis it was determined that all target areas had over abundant Kangaroo populations. Parks Victoria compared the population estimates to the designated carrying capacities of each management area and 10,148 animals were identified for removal. 2,708 Western Grey Kangaroos and 7,440 Red Kangaroos. This target was slightly higher in number than the previous year (8,162 in 2020) and it continued the trend since 2013, of high numbers of Red Kangaroos being identified for removal. Red Kangaroos, now the majority of animals ear marked for removal, making up 73 cent of the overall target”.

Exclusion, wildlife entrapment fence. Murray Sunset National Park on right, private 'farm' land on left. Note direction of angled fencing designed to entrap wildlife trying to leave the park.

The grim language of extermination

“The culling programme commenced on the 6th of December 2021 at the Wyperfeld National Park and the Murray Sunset National Park. The programme closed down for two weeks over Christmas and new year public holidays and recommenced on the 4th of January 2022 for another six weeks until 9 February 2022. High river flows restricted access to Lindsay Island so an additional week of shooting was conducted at Lindsay Island on 4 to 8 April 2022, once river levels receded. There were 32.5 nights of operations that occurred during the nine weeks of operations.
Overall 3,693 animals were removed which was 36 per cent of the overall target. This was an improvement on the previous year's results. Wyperfeld National Park was close to achieving its target 82 per cent, the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, 46 per cent and Murray Sunset National Park at 26 per cent. All were well below the target and this continues the recent trend of a significant gap between target and actual achieved.
The Western Grey Kangaroo target was almost achieved at 98 per cent whilst Red Kangaroos were well below the target with only 14 per cent achieved.
The programme cost $189,120 (GST excluded). Parks Victoria staff spent 110 person days (840 hours) supporting contractors to deliver the on ground shooting program.
The COVID-19 pandemic continued to present challenges and this monitoring and control programme was adapted to meet COVID-19 requirements. Job safety analysis were reviewed and updated to include COVID-19 control measures due to the continuation of state border restrictions the aerial survey was again based in South Australia engaging South Australian aircraft”.

Hattah-Kulkyne National Park and 1080 poison sign, never mind the Goannas

A note on mothers and babies (description of the killing)

“When adult female Kangaroos were shot, any pouch young present were required to be euthanized immediately as per the COP euthanasia procedures and were performed with the intent of complying with the conditions specified by the SOP, the protocol used by Parks Victoria. Furred pouch young being euthanized by a blunt trauma and unfurred pouch young being ‘euthanized’ by decapitation with a sharp blade after blunt trauma stunning. A total of 41 adult female Kangaroos were inspected for the presence of pouch young, of these animals, 68 per cent had a single pouch young present”.

Very unpleasant histories

This section, based on writings by Peter Preuss, the author of The Red Sands of Hattah, from direct experience at the time, describes the mass killing of Australian mammal species in Victoria’s state and national parks and other public lands. This account is from the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park in 1991.

“Warning do not drive on this surface".

The pits caused a safety hazard as the soft oozing body fluids of a vast number of Kangaroos caused the surface of this site to be very boggy over the pits.

Hattah-Kulkyne National Park: Dead trees and it is nothing to do with Kangaroos (or Koalas)

This is one of the death pits containing the carcasses of thousands of Kangaroos killed in the 1990-1991 mass killing of Kangaroos. The park’s management have dug a death pit at one of the most obvious areas of natural regeneration and natural dune stabilisation in the park. Red Gum, Black Box and Callitris Hop Bush were all actively regenerating at and near this site prior to the killings. This destroyed the natural regeneration that was occurring over the site. The pit caused soil damage from which this area will take many years to recover (the 1984 Kangaroo disposal pits are still compacted from the earthmoving equipment as no effort has been made to restore this area).

Digging these terrible disposal pits resulted in significant invasive threats including weeds, introduced by the earthmoving equipment that dug the pits and compacted the land and from the shooters vehicles.

These gruesome Kangaroo pits caused a health hazard, warning signs are here telling visitors not to drink or swim in the water as the oozing body fluids of thousands of dead Kangaroos have permeated through the sand into the Lake.

"The slimy fluid oozing to the surface above the pit is being washed into Lake Lockie. In times of flood these Kangaroo death pits will be under Lake Lockie, which connects into Lake Mournpall and Lake Hattah, where people swim and sometimes drink the water. The water from Lake Hattah is pumped to the Hattah township as its major water supply”. Peter Preuss

Ending

Conflation propaganda in the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park visitor centre:

“If we can just keep the rabbits and the roos down, it’s quite possible that the recovery process could really keep going”.

There are three things I dislike intensely, bullies, cruelty to animals and secrecy. What goes on, in at least some of Australia’s public parks and reserves, has very large portions of each.

These are the things that are not to be tolerated in a civil society or a democracy. And the biggest lie of all is that wildlife in Victoria is protected.

One question that has never been answered was what has happened to all the carcasses of the animals killed in the years since 2017? It needs to be answered.

Booming Kangaroo populations in the Mallee landscape?

Kill state context

In Australia’s state of Victoria, If the mass killing of Kangaroos, the secretive killing of Koalas, the annual mass slaughter of waterbirds (77 per cent of the Australian states total slaughter), the targeting of around 100 native species with ATCW permits, the ’unprotection’ of other native species, the blocking of wildlife rescues on public land, shocking standards of conduct when it comes to native forests in the state, the capture of Ramsar sites and other wetlands as shooting and game reserves, the refusal to support conservation measures on the failing River Murray was not enough, here are some more revelations.

“Victorians across the state care deeply about our precious threatened species, but Labor in Victoria just doesn’t prioritise them. Labor has cut funding for biodiversity programs which means we have 1,500 threatened species with no action plans for their survival. Ellen Sandell MP for Melbourne

The PAEC inquiry into the 2021-22 and 2022-23 Financial and Performance Outcomes of the Victorian Government has revealed a series of deeply troubling issues regarding the future of Australian wildlife in the state.

Victoria’s environment department (now DEECA) has revealed that 1,500 threatened species are still waiting on action plans being developed, after the department’s funding was gutted by Labor. Only 100 species have had plans developed by the Victorian Government over the last two years, after a scathing Victorian Auditor-General's Office (VAGO) report in 2021 found the Department was not developing plans as required under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act laws.

It was also revealed that Victoria’s environment department is still developing the 2021 and 2022 annual reports for its Biodiversity 2037 program while two related, overdue reports (these are both reports to which we have spent a great deal of time on (pro bono) assisting the government in both meetings and submissions). These are:

  • The Government Response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Ecosystem Decline (due 2 June 2022); and
  • The Independent Review of Victoria’s Wildlife Act 1975 (delivered December 2021) and the Government Response