In Part I of this blog series, I discussed the health concerns associated with kangaroo meat as a reason why I don't recommend feeding kangaroo to your pets. Read Part I here.
In Part II, I started to delve into the ethical concerns associated with kangaroo meat, particularly that the trade is not strictly regulated. Read Part II here.
In this part, I continue to discuss the ethical concerns with regard to whether the trade can be called humane, pet food industry claims and whether kangaroos are pests.
Warning: the contents of this article may be disturbing for some readers.
The trade is not humane or ethical
If the commercial kangaroo industry shot every kangaroo in accordance with the Code, and if we exclude death from the equation, maybe the trade could be referred to as humane or ethical.
Unfortunately, not every kangaroo is killed in accordance with the Code (shot in the brain to cause instantaneous death). And these kangaroos will suffer because they will die a slow death.
According to former kangaroo shooter, Lyn Gunther:
“It is not uncommon for a kangaroo to be hung on a hook whilst still alive and whilst it doesn’t happen often...it does happen...in which case their throats are cut to kill them...there is plenty of filmed evidence of this happening by professional licensed shooters and it is not a ‘nerve response’ as some shooters will claim, when they have viewed this footage. Nerve responses won’t allow a shooter to get near the kangaroo for fear of being kicked...where a paralysed live animal can be handled with care and hung up after having a cut made in it’s leg between the tendon and leg bone. There is also footage of kangaroos being skinned alive on hooks by professional licensed shooters. Again it is not common, but it does happen.”
Gunther recalls a time when a shooter would be allocated properties for his/her sole use - “a shooter normally had 3 or 4 properties he would shoot on, leaving properties to ‘spell’ and have a break".
But now, she says:
“The properties are frequently allowing multiple shooters to use the same property… this means that the kangaroos are not getting any respite from shooters… I’ve had shooters comment to me that the animals are exhibiting PTSD as a result of such frequent shooting taking place and it is extremely hard to get the kangaroos to settle enough to be able to take a shot at all… much less a head shot.”
Kangaroos may also suffer stress before they are shot. In the lead up to a kill, a kangaroo will hear the noise of the shooter's truck, will have the truck lights glaring on him or her, and will then be shot. They may also see or hear other kangaroos being shot.
Joeys also suffer.
Under the Code, shooters must 'euthanase' the joeys of any female that is killed by using the following methods:
for a small furless pouch young, a 'single forceful blow to the base of the skull' or 'stunning, immediately followed by decapitation';
for furred pouch young, a 'single forceful blow to the base of the skull'; and
for young at foot, a 'single shot to the brain or heart where it can be delivered accurately and in safety'.
But according to RSPCA Australia, shooters are not given training in how to kill joeys.
It is believed that some shooters will leave joeys to run off because they don't want to kill them. And some shooters fail to check the pouches of shot females for joeys, which is a requirement of the Code. The result is that pouch joeys are likely to suffer a prolonged death (Croft, 2004) as a result of starvation, exposure or predation.
Dependent joeys who are not caught and killed in accordance with the Code can also suffer a similar fate. Without their mothers, they don't learn vital survival skills such as finding food, water and shelter (Croft, 2004).
The death of joeys is considered 'collateral damage' to the killing of female kangaroos and their deaths are not counted as a loss to the overall population of the species.
The Government has attempted to minimise the deaths of joeys by encouraging in the Code for shooters to avoid shooting females where it is obvious they have dependent young. But this is only a recommendation. It is not a mandatory requirement of the Code.
Some shooters do attempt to follow this recommendation but according to Gunther:
“this has severely destabilised the macropod population where there are now no longer any Alpha males left to keep peace and harmony within the mob...causing the young adolescent males to continually rape the young females, causing severe injures from prolapses, infections to death”.
She goes on to say that:
“kangaroo weights have now become so low, being 12kg in Queensland and 11kg in New South Wales minimum, that it is not uncommon for a shooter to shoot three to five kangaroos, which they then find are too small for sale and these animals are neither counted or sold, so they are left to rot in the paddock and not spoken about or recorded in any way.”
Whilst attempts are made to follow the no-female-kill recommendation, 87,345 female kangaroos were reported as being killed in Queensland in 2018. This may only represent 11% of the total number of kangaroos killed in Queensland that year, but individually the number is extensive. And it doesn't demonstrate how many joeys suffered as a result of these deaths.
Each of the above factors point to the trade as being inhumane and unethical.
Pet food industry claims
Several brands of dry dog food on the market make various claims about the ethics of kangaroo meat, referring to the dog foods as "an ethical kangaroo recipe", "sustainably and ethically sourced".
From the research I have conducted into the kangaroo industry, some of which I have set out in this blog series, it is only possible for me to draw one conclusion - there is nothing ethical about kangaroo meat. And in fact, I do not consider it to be any more ethical than any other type of meat.
The process of meat production ultimately ends with the taking of an animal's life without their consent. For this reason alone, it is incorrect to call meat "ethical". There is no such thing as "ethical" meat. There are meats that might be considered "more ethical" than others because the meat has come from animals farmed in organic environments as opposed to industrial farms. But the end for these animals is the same.
Kangaroo pet food trial kills 1,000,000
In Victoria, a government kangaroo pet food trial has resulted in the deaths of one million kangaroos - nearly half of the state's kangaroos. According to a state government report, "shooters were driven to slaughter more animals for profit and the program was beset by fraud and bribery offences". Apparently, some shooters are suspected of providing money and other incentives to landholders for access to kill kangaroos.
According to the Australian Society for Kangaroos president, Nikki Sutterby, "Hundreds of thousands of little joeys have been brutally killed or orphaned as a result of this trial in Victoria".
Any landholder can apply to kill kangaroos as part of the trial - it is not restricted to commercial shooters.
The trial will operate until 30 September 2019, after which an ongoing kangaroo pet food program will commence.
I have serious concerns about these trials. Not only could the shooters' drive to make a profit have an impact on the kangaroo species, the extent of suffering endured by the kangaroos could be immense.
But aren’t kangaroos pests?
Many of those who benefit from the commercial kangaroo industry would like you to believe that kangaroo populations are out of control, that they are pests and that killing kangaroos controls their numbers.
The Australian Government sets national quotas based on estimates of kangaroo and wallaby populations.
To support the view that the killing of kangaroos is sustainable, many will argue that national quotas are never met. (Could this be because the populations are dwindling?)
But there is a failure to recognise that the quotas are often met and sometimes exceeded. For example, in 2006, the quotas were exceeded for eastern grey kangaroos in the Upper Hunter, NSW and for red kangaroos in Bourke, NSW.
Some scientists believe that the population estimates (on which the quotas are based) are inflated.
Ecologist Ray Mjadwesch contends that, because the surveys include densely populated national parks, reserves and other no-shooting areas, the quotas are based on inflated population estimates.
Mjadwesch also criticises the changing methodologies relied upon by the Government in surveying kangaroo populations. He questions the accuracies of the estimates, and expresses that some estimation growths are “biologically impossible”. He says the numbers of kangaroos and wallabies have declined significantly since before the advent of farming, that, for example, the present population of western grey kangaroos may be “as little as 9.3% of the original population”.
You can read more about Mjadwesch’s criticisms of the population estimates here.
The Government quotas and estimates do not take into account
The killing of young;
Non-commercial killing; and
The breeding rates of kangaroos, which are affected by weather (briefly, there is a 75-80% juvenile mortality rate in good seasons and up to 100% in poor seasons where breeding will cease).
Gunther expresses serious concerns about the harvest zones set by Government. She says that “some harvest zones now have zero densities of some species and yet the shooting continues… Road kill, natural predation, illegal shooting, natural disasters, disease are not taken into account.”
In Part I of this blog series, I explained the reasons why kangaroo meat is one of the most contaminated meats today. It contains the highest levels of bacteria when compared to other meats. And if the meat is cooked rare or fed raw, it can be dangerous to both humans and pets.
In Part II, I revealed that the kangaroo industry is not strictly regulated or humane, despite what industry might tell you.
And in this Part III, I have hopefully been able to demonstrate to you that suffering is inherent in the kangaroo meat trade.
Considering each of these blog articles as a whole, perhaps you can now see beyond the myth that the kangaroo and pet industries tell you about the ethics and safety of kangaroo meat.
And whether it's the health issues or the ethical issues of kangaroo meat that concern you the most, maybe now you will choose not to feed kangaroo to your pet.
If you are concerned about this issue and want to learn more, I encourage you to watch the documentary "Kangaroo - A Love/Hate Story". It is a great indication of what happens in today's kangaroo industry.
Do you want to learn what a healthy diet looks like for your pet? Grab a copy of my Real Food Diet Checklist For Your Pet here.
References (in addition to those linked/referenced in the article itself):
Croft, D. B. (2004). "Kangaroo management: individuals and communities." Australian Mammalogy 26: 101‐ 108.
Thank you to Lyn Gunther for her time in sharing her experiences as a former kangaroo shooter as well as her insights from being an advocate and rescuer of kangaroos. You can find out more about Lyn's work here.