Millions of kangaroos are dying in 2018 but without good conservation outcomes. Populations are crashing in drought and contributing to land degradation. Non-commercial culling is increasing because landholders seek to stop kangaroos from competing with their conventional livestock.
The kangaroo harvesting industry is declining and has been ineffective in reducing populations, partly due to animal rights campaigns. In recent years less than half the annual quota has been taken, and is currently only 20 %. Consequently, graziers are erecting kangaroo-proof fences around groups of properties and lowering numbers through various other means.
Non-commercial kill leads to poor animal welfare outcomes and considerable wastage. Regulators cannot monitor the number of kangaroos killed by amateurs, nor ensure high standards of dispatch of animals. To improve kangaroo welfare, professional population control should increase not decrease.
Landholders need to get involved in professional population control and regard kangaroos as assets not pests. If kangaroos were as valuable as wild goats or deer, landholders would have an incentive to co-produce kangaroos alongside conventional livestock and take advantage of kangaroo's adaptations. Doing so could help address the falling sustainability of many rangeland production systems.
Governments currently set harvesting quotas as a proportion of existing (variable) populations. An alternative would be to set population targets based on total grazing pressure that takes account of densities of other herbivores. It would reverse the situation where landholders are expected to carry an unstated number of animals that has no relationship to the carrying capacity of their properties, seasonal conditions or competing land uses.
Landholders should have a form of proprietorship over kangaroos on their properties. It could even lead to fewer methane producing livestock and more kangaroos producing low emission meat. Higher value kangaroos would enhance sustainability and bring other benefits to both Indigenous and other landholders on whose properties they occur.
Such changes are paradigm shifting but necessary to improve kangaroo welfare and reduce current wastage. Conventional livestock agencies such as Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) should support the kangaroo industry as part of co-production and diversification options and its strategy to be carbon neutral by 2030. In 2017 Australia's 40 million kangaroos were almost exclusively on the properties of MLA and wool industry ratepayers.
This paper discusses the benefits of sustainable use of kangaroos and asserts a need for them to be realised. Changing the status of kangaroos is a complex undertaking that involves not only activities which farmers can control, but also product management, marketing and public attitudes. Transitioning to sustainable use begins with the importance of animal welfare and greater respect for kangaroos.