ABSTRACT

During the late 1970s I developed an idea that later became known as ‘sheep replacement for rangelands’. It grew from the realisation, gained during hundreds of hours of low flying on kangaroo surveys, that overgrazing by sheep was turning, or had already turned Australia's ‘sheep rangelands’ into desert. Seeking an economically productive alternative, I imagined a scenario in which the value of kangaroo meat could be increased enough, by effective marketing, to encourage wool growers to see kangaroos as a resource rather than a pest, and to reduce sheep numbers and, thus, total grazing pressure. The implication was that kangaroo meat would be marketed for human consumption, relying on its low fat, high protein characteristics, making it a healthier alternative to traditional livestock. Eating wild meat is not a new idea; humans were hunter gatherers until the last 8–10 thousand years. But the idea of marketing kangaroo meat in the service of land conservation was an idea that was hard for many people to get their heads around, and a hoped for marketing drive never eventuated. Now, almost 30 years since the idea was first published, kangaroos are still regarded as pests, kangaroo meat is still undervalued, and rangeland degradation continues apace. Indeed, recent developments are leading to what will be even more damaging forces driving rangeland destruction. There has indeed been ‘sheep replacement’, but in many areas it has been by goats. The goat meat industry is booming and history tells us that the rangelands will suffer further as a result. Additionally, ‘cluster’ fencing, introduced in some areas for wild dog control, is being hailed as a good way to ‘manage’ kangaroos. The future of the rangelands remains bleak.

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