This paper traces the post World War II debate over kangaroo management, and how the various parties have managed the issue to arrive at the current levels of kangaroo harvest, with particular reference to NSW and the transition of policy from culling kangaroos as an agricultural pest to a commercial harvest as the principal driver. Kangaroos have been variously represented in the debate as pests, a commercial resource, an iconic Australian symbol, and endangered species. In 1958, kangaroos narrowly survived a pastoralists' vote to list them as noxious animals. If it had passed, and been agreed upon by State Cabinet, it would have made it compulsory for landowners to rid their land of these animals because they would then have been noxious species. Over 1964 and 1965, culled kangaroo populations crashed during drought. It showed that for kangaroo management to be effective in the long-term the original tenet in the Fauna Protection Act 1948 of kangaroos as pests had to be re-interpreted and, in Allen Strom's words: “kangaroos needed to be managed on a sustained yield basis.” Fifty years later the debate is better informed, with a sustainable population management approach, which includes commercial harvesting. In a statement on the subject in 1983, Neil Shepherd provided the certainty as to what was underpinning the kangaroo management program at that time: “Commercial harvesting is sanctioned by wildlife authorities to reduce the impact of kangaroos on agriculture. Management for conservation is the primary objective and the harvest industry has no right to exist independent of the conservation program.” He also concluded that farming kangaroos was not feasible, and pointed out that they have never been intensively farmed. What was needed by the late 1980s was an effective advocate who could put the material together into a persuasive argument to move the public sentiment from pest management to sustained yield. If it had been attempted 10-20 years earlier, Shepherd observed, it would have been unsuccessful because the science to support the proposition, the research driven by Graeme Caughley from the mid 1970s to 1987, had not been undertaken. An advocate of a change in policy was Gordon Grigg. His proposal, first published in 1987, was to substitute kangaroo harvesting for sheep farming on the sheep rangelands as an answer to both widespread land degradation and sustainable kangaroo management. Grigg later gave it the epigrammatic description of “sheep replacement therapy”.The modern debate now centres on matters of ethics and animal welfare on the one hand, and conservation management policies on the other. A report in 1998 into the Commercial Utilisation of Australia Native Wildlife concluded “that it is a legitimate activity of the Federal Government to support an export industry based on the commercial harvesting of kangaroos, which is being prejudiced overseas by public campaigns based on false information.” Peter Singer, in 2005, took the view that “Those who see kangaroos only as a resource, overlook the ethical aspects of how we are treating other sentient beings.” In their 2006 review of the NSW Kangaroo Management Program, Olsen and Low concluded that shooting remains the most economical, humane and cost-effective way to cull/harvest kangaroos; rainfall is the overriding driver of population density and that the current harvest strategy (15-17%) appears to be achieving its current twin goals of sustainable use of natural resources and the maintenance of viable populations of the four harvested species. Thus the debate continues. However, this history of the debate on the commercial harvesting of kangaroos has revealed that it has been long running, filled with strong arguments and strong players, and that science and policy have had a long struggle to assimilate the needs of the other. The 2007-2011 NSW kangaroo management plan is titled New South Wales Commercial Kangaroo Harvest Management Plan. This bold title acknowledges the change in management outlook from damage mitigation to sustainable use. The historical record also demonstrates that the current NSW management plan, which is underpinned by an objective to manage a sustainable kangaroo harvest, is the outcome of a long and public debate.
A history of the debate (1948-2009) on the commercial harvesting of kangaroos, with particular reference to New South Wales and the role of Gordon Grigg 1
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Daniel Lunney; A history of the debate (1948-2009) on the commercial harvesting of kangaroos, with particular reference to New South Wales and the role of Gordon Grigg 1. Australian Zoologist 1 January 2010; 35 (2): 383–430. doi: https://doi.org/10.7882/AZ.2010.027
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