Kangaroo Shooting Code compliance

A Survey of the Extent of Compliance with the Requirements of the Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos
Prepared for Environment Australia by RSPCA Australia
July 2002

1 Introduction

In 1985 RSPCA Australia presented a Report to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service on the incidence of cruelty to kangaroos [1]. The report examined the commercial and non-commercial killing of kangaroos in the four mainland States involved in the commercial harvest (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia) through discussions with government agencies, non-government bodies, a survey of veterinarians and field inspections of skins and carcasses from commercially harvested kangaroos.

The 1985 Report provided an overview of each State's approach to commercial and non-commercial killing, developed criteria for assessing the incidence of cruelty to kangaroos in killing operations, provided estimates of the levels of cruelty involved and made a series of recommendations aimed at reducing the level of cruelty associated with killing kangaroos. Most importantly, the 1985 Report established a standard for humane killing of kangaroos, namely a single shot to the head, to achieve the primary objective of instantaneous loss of consciousness and rapid death without regaining consciousness

At the time of the 1985 Report a Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos had been prepared by the (then) Council of Nature Conservation Ministers (now the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council, NRMMC) although it was not implemented until after the Report's completion. The stated aim of the Code was 'to ensure that all persons intending to shoot a free-living kangaroo are aware of the welfare aspects pertinent to that activity'. The Code set out an achievable standard of humane conduct considered to be the minimum required of persons shooting kangaroos. The 1985 Report recommended several changes and additions to the Code, all except one of which were adopted in the Code's Second Edition, endorsed in 1990 (Appendix 1). Since 1985 the Code has been adopted as the standard for humane killing within all States involved in commercial harvesting of kangaroos (and of wallabies in the case of Queensland and Tasmania).

In late 1997 RSPCA Australia was approached by the Kangaroo Industries Association of Australia to undertake an audit of the animal welfare controls of the human consumption kangaroo harvest. The National Council of the RSPCA considered this request and agreed that there was a need to conduct a review of the 1985 Report and that the Commonwealth Government should be approached to fund such a review. Following such an approach, in 1999 Environment Australia commissioned RSPCA Australia to undertake a survey of the extent of compliance with the requirements of the Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos. This Report presents the results of that survey.

The Report is broken into five main parts which loosely reflect the main aspects of the 1985 Report and cover the areas outlined in the Schedule of Consultancy Services (Appendix 2).

  1. Discussions with government agencies. This includes discussions with relevant personnel from each State government agency, as well as Commonwealth agencies including the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service.
  2. Discussions with non-government bodies concerned with kangaroo harvesting, land management and animal welfare.
  3. Field inspections of commercially harvested kangaroos in the four mainland States involved in the commercial harvest [2].
  4. Comments on other animal welfare issues relevant to the Code.
  5. A comparison of current practices with the recommendations made in the 1985 Report.

1.1 Background to kangaroo management

Under Australian Law, the individual States have responsibility for wildlife management within their state boundaries, whereas the export of all wildlife or wildlife products is controlled by the Commonwealth Government. At the time this survey was carried out, this control was under the provisions of the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982 with Environment Australia administering the Act and providing advice to the relevant Federal Minister. This federal legislation has now been replaced by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 but the controls regarding kangaroo management remain largely the same.

The Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982 created the requirement for approved management programs for commercial export of wildlife products derived from wildlife taken from the wild. In practice, the relevant States (Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia) prepared a management program that was submitted for approval to the Commonwealth. The Minister, in deciding whether to approve the management program considered public comment, advice from Environment Australia and advice from the Scientific Committee on Wildlife Use.

On mainland Australia there are five species of kangaroo and wallaby (macropods) that are killed for commercial use (mainly meat for consumption by pets and/or humans, and skins for leather). As well as these five species, additional species may also be killed on a non-commercial basis for damage mitigation purposes. The five species of macropod currently the subject of management programs in the four relevant States are:

  • Red kangaroo (Macropus rufus): Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia
  • Eastern grey kangaroo (M. giganteus): Queensland and New South Wales
  • Western grey kangaroo (M. fuliginosus): New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia
  • Common wallaroo or euro (M. robustus): Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia
  • Whiptail wallaby (M. parryi): Queensland

The first three species are the most abundant and make up over 95% of the commercial harvest.

Kangaroo Management Programs (KMPs) provide statements of the aims of kangaroo management in each State, usually to maintain viable populations of the species throughout their ranges, minimise the unwanted impacts of kangaroos and, where possible, manage the kangaroos as a renewable resource providing the conservation of the species is not compromised. The NSW KMP for 2002-2006 changes this approach, which focuses on the justification for kangaroo management, to an 'outcome and performance' driven approach. This has resulted in the removal of any reference to damage mitigation. The stated goal of the NSW KMP is to 'maintain viable populations of kangaroos throughout their ranges in accordance with the principles of ecologically sustainable development'.

The KMPs also provide details of annual population monitoring, how annual quotas are derived and used to limit harvesting, procedures such as the issue of tags by which harvests are regulated and, indeed, all aspects of the operation and regulation of kangaroo management in that State. The harvest quotas within each KMP do not always include kangaroos and wallabies killed for damage mitigation purposes.

In 1999, the annual quota for the harvesting of macropods within the four relevant mainland States was 5,661,146. In practice, the actual annual harvest does not always reach the annual quota. In 1999, the number of macropods harvested commercially was 2,654,496 (47% of the quota). In 2000 the total approved commercial quota was 5,495,225 and the commercial harvest figure was 2,747,491 (50% of the quota).

There is a continuing debate concerning the number of macropods that should be harvested, or whether macropods should be harvested at all. Part of this debate concerns the level of cruelty associated with the killing of macropods, both kangaroos and wallabies.  The study reported here does not attempt to examine the effectiveness of kangaroo management programs in terms of population control, nor does it examine the ethics of commercial kangaroo harvesting.

1.2 General approach

Details of the methodology used in the project are provided in the following sections. This section describes the general approach taken to fulfil the requirements of the Schedule of Consultancy Services as detailed in Appendix 2.

The project was undertaken in two main parts:

  • obtaining information from government agencies, non-government organisations, businesses and individuals; and
  • inspection of carcasses and skins from kangaroos killed for commercial purposes throughout the four States.

Before investigating each State's role in the monitoring and management of the humane aspects of kangaroo killing, information was gathered on the relevant Federal and State legislation.

Government agencies concerned with the management of kangaroos in each of the four States were contacted by phone to establish contact and to explain the aims of the project. A series of questions were then sent to each agency via email. Later, representatives from each agency were visited and the humane aspects of kangaroo management discussed. State and Federal agencies involved with the human consumption of kangaroos were also contacted.

Other organisations contacted were those associated with the kangaroo industry e.g. the Kangaroo Industries Association of Australia (KIAA), as well as those associated with animal welfare and animal conservation. Most contacts were initially by phone, then by email, or by direct contact.

As with the 1985 Report, veterinarians and animal carers throughout Australia were contacted by a mail-out of a questionnaire which requested information on the incidence of cruelty to kangaroos.

Whenever an opportunity arose, discussions were undertaken with a wide range of people with some direct and indirect association with kangaroo killing. This included landowners, kangaroo shooters, processor operators and workers, members of kangaroo shooters associations and tannery operators and workers. These mainly occurred during travels around the four States. Over 90 people were interviewed during this project.

Inspections of kangaroo carcasses and skins throughout the four States were undertaken in two parts. Initial inspections were carried out in July-September 2000 with a further two inspections in May 2002. It was decided that kangaroo products would be inspected within processors, rather than within chillers. Chillers are used by individual kangaroo harvesters to store carcasses and skins until they are transported to the processors. Inspection of kangaroo products at processors meant that there were relatively large numbers of carcasses and/or skins to inspect, and that no individual harvester was targeted during the inspection. At no time was there any intention of taking on a 'policeman' role, ie reporting any individual that may have broken the law. Rather, the survey aimed to record the relative proportion of head-shot kangaroos killed for commercial purposes. This was taken as a measure of the extent of compliance with the Code. In addition to an inspection of processors, two tanneries were inspected to derive information about the possibility of inspecting large quantities of kangaroo skins prior to and during the tanning process.

There are three levels to the kangaroo industry that could be investigated - shooters, chillers and processors. As the products held at the chillers were passed onto the processors, it was possible to survey both these levels together, at the processor. To survey shooters, interviews were undertaken with 15 individual shooters distributed over the four States during the project.

The quantitative information obtained from the inspections of processors and the tannery were analysed and combined with information obtained from discussions and from the results of surveys of veterinarians and animal carers, as well as from various reports and plans of management to develop this report.

[1] RSPCA Australia (1985) Incidence of Cruelty to Kangaroos. Report to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service

[2] New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.