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

7 Summary

This Report examines the extent of compliance with the requirements of the Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos in the four mainland States involved in the commercial killing of kangaroos (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia). Qualitative information on kangaroo management and compliance with the Code was collected through discussions with government agencies, non-government bodies and individuals with an interest in kangaroo management. A quantitative assessment of compliance with the Code in the commercial sector was carried out through field inspections of kangaroos killed for commercial purposes.

In 1985 RSPCA Australia presented a Report to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service on the incidence of cruelty to kangaroos. Since that time there have been a number of developments in the management of kangaroos, including the introduction of the Code of Practice, and the current report provides an assessment of progress made since 1985.

The regulation of commercial and non-commercial kangaroo killing was examined through interviews with State agencies and comparison of the State Kangaroo Management Plans (KMPs). Each KMP was studied and discussed with the relevant government agency in terms of its aims, the types of licences issued and the conditions imposed on licence holders, the process for tracing carcasses to the shooter and point of origin, numbers of licence holders and numbers of kangaroos killed under the main types of licence, and the procedures in place in each state for inspections and overall enforcement of the KMP.

Discussions with State agencies indicated that, in their view, compliance with the Code of Practice by commercial shooters was adequate, and had been facilitated by industry self-regulation in terms of not accepting body-shot kangaroos. However, concern was expressed about the lack of compliance and difficulty in enforcement of the Code in the non-commercial sector.

Developments in the requirements for training of commercial kangaroo shooters in recent years include the establishment of courses on handling game meat to be used for human consumption, which includes a component on the humane killing of kangaroos. In addition, it is also a requirement in most States for commercial shooters to undertake a firearms competency test. Two recommendations are made which are aimed at improving the consistency and practicality of these training courses across all States (Recommendations 2.1-2.2). There have been no similar developments in the non-commercial sector and the conditions placed on non-commercial shooters are minimal in comparison.

Discussions were held with a range of non-government groups and individuals with interests in kangaroo management. Industry representatives consulted included shooters, processor operators, tanners and shooter associations. Their general attitude was that the Code of Practice provides a stable basis for the humane operation of the commercial kangaroo industry. Some concern was expressed over a perceived lack of enforcement of the Code through inspections and following up of reports to State agencies. There was a general perception from within the industry that the level of compliance during non-commercial killing was far lower than that in the commercial sector.

The report outlines a number of general concerns of animal welfare groups over the cruelty associated with the killing of kangaroos. Several groups have called for an end to the commercial killing of kangaroos, for many reasons, including the belief that the industry is inherently cruel. Of particular concern to such groups is the killing of pouch young and the abandonment of young at foot when the mother is shot, as well as specific incidents of cruelty. These concerns are a reflection of the lack of confidence within the animal welfare community of compliance rates and the level of enforcement of the Code.

The report also provides the results of a questionnaire on kangaroo injuries sent to veterinarians and animal carers, similar to one sent out as part of the 1985 survey. As in 1985, only a small proportion of veterinarians had treated kangaroos or examined dead kangaroos with injuries resulting from obvious acts of cruelty. Wildlife carers were much more likely to have treated injured kangaroos. The majority of reported injuries were caused by vehicle collisions. More relevant to this report were the reports of deliberate injuries from rifles, shotguns, knives and dogs. These results provide an indication of the problems with compliance with the Code in terms of illegal methods of killing kangaroos.

 

The report presents the results of a field survey of skins and carcasses of commercially harvested kangaroos in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. These results demonstrate that there has clearly been an improvement in the humaneness of the commercial killing of kangaroos compared with that recorded in the 1985 Report. In 1985 the overall proportion of head-shot kangaroos in Australia was estimated to be 86%. In 2000/2002, it was 95.9%. While this represents a significant increase in the proportion of head-shot kangaroos, the results require qualification. Firstly, the sample was a conservative one as it represents only those kangaroos taken to processors, and many processors will only accept head-shot kangaroos. Secondly, it does not include kangaroos shot and injured but not retrieved by the shooter, and evidence suggests that such injuries are a regular occurrence during a shoot. Finally, the results do not take into account the effect on the dependent offspring of shot female kangaroos.

Even with these qualifications, it is clear that there has been a significant improvement in the overall head-shot rate of the industry. There are many factors that may have contributed to this, including the introduction of the Code of Practice, an increased demand for head-shot kangaroos, and a general increase in the professionalism of the industry. Because of the sheer size of the kangaroo harvest, large numbers of kangaroos continue to be body-shot each year even when head-shot rates are relatively high, thus it is vital that improvements continue to be made.

 

 

The survey found differences between the States in terms of their individual head-shot rates (NSW had the highest at 97.3% and Queensland the lowest at 93.5%) and between industry sectors (kangaroos shot for human consumption had a lower rate than those shot for pet food, and those shot for their skin only had a higher rate than those shot for their carcasses). While it was difficult to draw firm conclusions on the reasons behind these State or end-product effects, their presence indicates that State agencies and industry should examine their current polices and practices. Those factors that have contributed to the overall improvement in the head-shot rate of the commercial kill should be built upon and applied consistently across the industry (Recommendation 4.1).

 

The survey established that it was possible to make an assessment of compliance with the Code in the commercial sector through the inspection of skins at processors. Body shots were 2.7 times more likely to be detected in skins compared to carcasses, indicating that skins are the most appropriate choice of sample for future audits or inspections of this type. However, the removal of heads from kangaroos before they reach the processor means that detection of head shots at this level must be done by assumption rather than direct inspection. Current inspections by enforcement agencies do not provide a sufficiently consistent level of information to measure compliance, and the report recommends that a formal auditing process be introduced (Recommendation 4.2). The retention of heads on carcasses is also suggested as a means of facilitating the enforcement of the Code of Practice (Recommendation 4.4).

The majority of body shots detected during the survey were found to be shots to the neck of the kangaroo. It appears that there is degree of uncertainty in the industry about whether neck-shot kangaroos should be considered as body-shot, despite clear evidence that such shots would not cause a humane death. The report recommends clarification of this point in the Code and education of shooters and dealers about the difference between a head shot and a neck shot (Recommendation 4.3).

The report also discusses the non-commercial killing of kangaroos and the fate of pouch young and young-at-foot that are orphaned as a result of shooting adult female kangaroos. These issues are considered intrinsic to any discussion of the effectiveness of the Code of Practice or the humaneness of kangaroo management techniques in general.

The consensus of opinion given by those associated with kangaroo management is that there is a far higher degree of inhumane killing of kangaroos in the non-commercial sector compared to commercial killing, associated with a much lower relative level of control over compliance with the Code or enforcement of other licence conditions. These concerns reflect those highlighted in the 1985 Survey. While there has been some general education of landholders since the 1985 Report, there is no evidence to indicate that the problems associated with non-commercial killing have changed in any significant way.

The extension of the current commercial system of training in humane killing and assessment of firearms competency to non-commercial licence holders would ensure that all shooters were familiar with the Code of Practice and were capable of meeting its requirements (Recommendations 5.1 and 5.3). However, it is unlikely that this measure alone would be sufficient to bring compliance rates into line with those reported for commercial shooters. RSPCA Australia believes that more radical action is needed and recommends the phasing-out of existing non-commercial licensing systems to be replaced by the controlled use of commercial shooters for damage mitigation (Recommendation 5.2).

The Code requires that when a female has been killed her pouch young must also be killed immediately by decapitation, a heavy blow to the skull, or shooting. This presents one of the major animal welfare issues arising from the shooting of kangaroos. If a female is shot, her dependent pouch young will die of starvation, exposure or predation if they are not killed by the shooter. Young at foot may also suffer a similar death of they cannot survive on their own. The report discusses the relative humaneness of the methods used to kill pouch young, and makes suggestions for future research and possible changes to shooting practices to avoid this situation (Recommendations 5.5-5.6).

The report also provides a comparison of the present management of kangaroos with the recommendations made in the 1985 report. The majority of these recommendations have been addressed, at least in part, by the introduction and revision (second edition) of the Code of Practice. Two specific recommendations that had not been satisfied are repeated in the present report. These concern a study into the relationship between projectile types, firearm size and the efficiency of killing kangaroos and the removal of the reference in the Code to the use of shotguns for killing macropods, which is still permitted in certain circumstances (Recommendations 6.1 and 6.2).

7.1 List of RSPCA Australia recommendations

Training courses (Section 2)

2.1 It is recommended that satisfactory completion of the game meat harvesting courses and firearms accreditation courses should be made compulsory for all commercial licence holders in all States.

2.2 To ensure that testing conditions are as realistic as possible, a field-based shooting accuracy test such as that undertaken in South Australia should be adopted in all States as part of their firearms accreditation (ie testing should be carried out at night from a vehicle).

Commercial killing (Section 4)

4.1 All States involved in the commercial killing of kangaroos, especially those with below- average compliance rates, should examine their current management policies in the light of the survey results presented in this report.

4.2 A formal independent auditing process, preferably involving the inspection of skins rather than carcasses, should be introduced as the best means of assessing the humaneness of the industry. Such an auditing process should be set into place within all States involved in commercial shooting of kangaroos.

4.3 The potential for the retention of heads on carcasses should be explored, to facilitate enforcement of the Code of Practice in cases where a follow-up body shot was required.

4.4 The definition of a head shot (shot to the brain) and the diagram in Schedule 2 in the Code of Practice must be clarified to unambiguously exclude neck shots. Shooters, processors and dealers need to be educated about the difference between a neck shot and a head shot.

Non-commercial killing (Section 5)

5.1 All kangaroos should be killed humanely in accordance with the Code of Practice, whether shooting is done under commercial or non-commercial licence.

5.2 RSPCA Australia believes that, in order to achieve the principle of humane shooting in the long-term, the existing damage mitigation licensing system should be phased-out, ie all kangaroos to be killed would be killed by commercial shooters and the carcasses sold to processors. If this change were implemented, where a landholder considered it necessary to reduce the numbers of kangaroos as a damage mitigation measure, then the appropriate agency should arrange for a professional shooter to reduce the kangaroo population on the landholder's property, provided that the authority is satisfied there is a bona fide problem of kangaroo damage. All kangaroos shot under this system should have an appropriate tag that could be used to trace a shot kangaroo back to the holder of the tag.

5.3 Whilst the current system continues, RSPCA Australia believes that it must be made compulsory for all non-commercial licence holders to successfully undertake that part of the game meat harvesting course that covers humane killing, as well as a firearms competency course that includes the shooting accuracy test.

5.4 Appropriate arrangements need to be made in each State and Territory government agency in order to ensure such a system could be enforced. A process for such a system, proposing the establishment of Wildlife Control Officers was provided in the 1985 Report.

Pouch young and young at foot (Section 5)

5.5 Research should be immediately undertaken to determine the most humane method of disposing of small pouch young after the mother has been shot. The Code should be amended accordingly with specific advice provided on the circumstances in which a recommended technique is appropriate.

5.6 RSPCA Australia believes that the only solution which would avoid the potential of cruelty to pouch young would be to avoid shooting females altogether. The RSPCA recommends that research be carried out to examine the potential effects of this policy on the gender balance in local populations, and what factors should be taken into consideration when estimating the survival chances of pouch young. In the short term, the Code of Practice and the appropriate licence should contain a condition that no female kangaroos carrying large pouch young should be shot.

Projectile types (Section 6)

6.1 It is recommended that a study be conducted into the relationship between projectile types, firearm size and the efficiency of killing kangaroos. The results should be incorporated into Schedule 1 of the Code of Practice.

Use of shotguns (Section 6)

6.2 Any reference to the use of shotguns on any macropod should be removed from the Code of Practice. It should be made clear in the Code that the only acceptable method of humanely shooting macropods is a shot to the head using a centrefire rifle with appropriate calibre ammunition (as specified in Schedule 1).