The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect the views of Animals Australia.
There's a lack of clarity in the science on this serious issue, DANA CAMPBELL writes
The news last week that the ACT government has authorised the culling of 2015 Eastern Grey kangaroos across nine nature reserves is yet another example of the dangerous influence that out-dated science exerts in our government's wildlife management policies.
The slaughter of more than 2000 kangaroos is not a step the ACT government should be taking lightly, yet lack of clarity around the science validating the culls should be enough to warrant more research before such drastic action is taken. The death of joeys as ''collateral damage'' to the killing of female kangaroos should be cause enough for hesitation. Young joeys are killed or left to die when their mothers are shot.
Justifying the ACT government's decision, director of Parks and Conservation Daniel Iglesias said that the culling of more than 2000 kangaroos between May 22 and June 12 this year was ''needed to maintain populations at appropriate levels to protect the integrity of ecosystems, several of which contain endangered flora and fauna'' and that the 2000 number had been based on kangaroo counts in each location. But where is the evidence that culling kangaroos will protect those endangered flora and fauna? The ACT Kangaroo Management Plan aims to reduce kangaroo populations to 0.5 a hectare but the scientific credibility of this ''target'' is severely lacking and has been criticised by leading kangaroo ecologists.
To routinely cull thousands of sentient beings is a serious action for governments to take. The ACT Kangaroo Management Plan does not detail sufficient data on the positive or negative impacts of kangaroos on biodiversity, making it impossible to establish whether a cull of any sort will make the difference the ACT government claims it will.
Furthermore, with a lack of data to validate the cull, how can the ACT Government justify the welfare and economic costs of such an act? Without the appropriate figures around ACT kangaroo populations and their interactions within the environment, it is morally and scientifically foolhardy to assume a cull is the answer.
Additionally, seeking approval from ACT residents through a survey about their support of the cull is also misleading as the appropriate data to make an informed opinion simply doesn't exist. It has now come to light that, according to Iglesias, this year's cull is costing about $107 a kangaroo, with an overall cost of $215,000. Last year's cull of 3400 kangaroos cost half that much, about $54 a kangaroo.
Alternatives do exist. The cull, which follows the 2010 Kangaroo Management Plan, has been described as unnecessary by Professor Steve Garlick and Doctor Rosemary Austen, who used their own experience in translocating about 500 kangaroos as potential evidence that non-lethal methods can work.
Translocating animals involves the moving of multiple wild animals for free release away from their original home range. Having translocated kangaroos twice a year, Garlick and Austen said they monitored them daily and weekly and claim the process was beneficial to both animal and the new location.
Common criticisms of translocation are that it is stressful for kangaroos and that suitable release sites are lacking. But according to Garlick and Austen, the simple solution in this case would be for a few animals to be translocated from each identified nature reserve on a weekly basis to an identified safe location over a 12-month period, estimated to cost $103 an animal.
The exploration of non-lethal means is important to manage our relationship with wildlife, but of more immediate concern for Voiceless is the inherent cruelty built into the culling methods currently being used. The National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos for Non-commercial Purposes governs the killing of kangaroos for non-commercial purposes in the ACT. Under the National Code, a ''humane death'' is considered one where the animal dies instantaneously through a clean shot to the head. Yet the very nature of the cull to shoot small moving targets makes this method difficult.
Culls and other such drastic actions should be suspended until the science it is based on is made transparent and subject to objective review, debate and discussion. Only then will the ACT government have all the facts to make such important decisions.
Dana Campbell is the chief executive of Voiceless, an independent, non-profit think tank focused on raising awareness of animals harmed by factory farming and the commercial kangaroo industry in Australia.