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

5 Other animal welfare issues relevant to the Code of Practice

This Section of the report covers two main issues affecting the welfare of kangaroos that are not otherwise covered by the scope of this report, but are considered intrinsic to any discussion of the effectiveness of the Code of Practice or the humaneness of kangaroo management techniques in general. The first is the area of non-commercial killing of kangaroos. Although the survey reported in Section 4 did not include any data on the killing of kangaroos outside of the commercial sector, there are major welfare issues that arise from the killing of kangaroos outside of the commercial system. Indeed, the 1985 Report concluded that the majority of cruelty to kangaroos occurred as a result of non-commercial killing. The second issue concerns the fate of pouch young and young-at-foot that are orphaned as a result of shooting adult female kangaroos, which is often cited by animal welfare organisations as one of the major problems associated with the killing of kangaroos.

5.1 Non-commercial shooting

Non-commercial shooting is many-faceted, involving the 'shoot and let lie' licensing system available in all four States, a private use or recreational system available in South Australia and Queensland, a Restricted Open Season requiring no licensing in Western Australia, as well as the illegal killing of kangaroos that occurs throughout Australia.

The number of non-commercial licences provides some estimate of the extent of this type of kangaroo killing. In NSW, 489 occupiers' licences (for damage mitigation) were issued for landholders in the commercial zone, and in South Australia 836 destruction permits were issued during 2000. The NSW figures do not include kangaroos shot in the non-commercial zone. Figures on the number of non-commercial licences issued were not available for Western Australia or Queensland. The proportion of kangaroos killed using damage mitigation licences varies for each State. According to information from the state agencies, the percentage of kangaroos shot under non-commercial licences in 2000 was 4.2% in NSW, 1.5% in Queensland, while in South Australia it was 10.7% (figures are not available for Western Australia due to the open season system). A total of 95,686 kangaroos were shot non-commercially in NSW, Queensland and South Australia in 2000.

There are a number of difficulties in building up an accurate picture of the true extent of non-commercial killing of kangaroos. The first is the lack of information on permit numbers and kangaroos killed from every state. The second is that, since the numbers for kangaroos killed non-commercially are generally based on returns from landowners, the total number can only be considered as an estimate. Finally, there is no available information on the extent of illegal killing outside of the licensing system.

Furthermore, it is impossible to quantify the extent of compliance with the Code of Practice of non-commercial killing, particularly if illegal killing is included. Discussions can be held with landholders holding damage mitigation licences, but accompanying the licence holder during a killing operation does not provide a true assessment of the degree of cruelty associated with this type of killing (when no-one is observing). However, some anecdotal information on damage mitigation and illegal killing was collected during the survey.

5.1.1 Issues relating to killing under damage mitigation licences

Discussions with commercial kangaroo shooters provided descriptions of injured kangaroos found in paddocks after the landholder had been undertaking damage mitigation activities. Several shooters described how they would have to destroy kangaroos that had been shot in the body or legs. Other descriptions came from newspaper and other reports of kangaroos being shot in settled areas in South Australia. There were also similar situations described in some of the responses to the questionnaire sent to veterinarians and animal carers (see Section 3.6).

Unfortunately, the results from such discussions provide a similar picture to that obtained during the 1985 survey. That is that, firstly, the incidence of cruelty within the non-commercial sector is higher than that found with professional shooters, and secondly, that cruelty associated with non-commercial kangaroo killing is neglected by the authorities and control over the number of kangaroos killed and the methods used is ineffective.

Apart from the cruelty aspects of non-commercial killing, professional shooters complained that this activity resulted in disturbed kangaroos that were difficult to harvest. There were also complaints that the practice of issuing damage mitigation licences to landholders took kangaroos away from potential commercial use, ie kangaroos were left to waste on the ground. Professional kangaroo shooters argue that the approximately 100,000 kangaroos known to be killed non-commercially should have been commercially utilised.

Shooters' associations also reported other problems associated with damage mitigation killing. It is believed that often the landholder is too 'successful' and will eliminate most of the larger (and most obvious) kangaroos from their land. This can result in an increase in female kangaroos and smaller macropods, such as wallabies. In Queensland there has been an increase in female wallaroos (euros) in some parts of the State (eg around Blackall). The increased numbers in wallabies and female wallaroos (also called 'wallydoes') are more difficult to control. Commercial shooters will not assist as there is no market for these animals.

Another problem with the use of damage mitigation licences arises when there is an opportunity for some economic gain from their use. The use of Personal Tags ('yellow tags') in South Australia can lead to the holder of the tags passing on these tags to a 'nominated agent'. This has led to the selling of permission to enter properties to the nominated agent by the original holder of the tags. Such practice may lead to 'shooting parties', who use the shooting of kangaroos as a means of recreation. This situation can also occur under the Western Australian system of a Restricted Open Season. Other economic uses for kangaroos shot under damage mitigation licences are supplying pet meat and supplying meat to be used for dog and fox baits.

Some of the responses to the mail survey of veterinarians and animal carers are relevant here. A range of methods were reported to have been used to inflict injuries on kangaroos, including knives, snares, bow and arrow, dogs and iron bars (see responses to Question 3, Section 3.6). Twenty-five percent of the 450 responses stated that kangaroo drives occurred in their area, and that these were mainly undertaken by property owners, weekend shooters and professional shooters.

Whenever an inspection of a processor was undertaken, skinning and boning staff were questioned about the presence of old shotgun pellets and projectiles in the muscle of kangaroo carcasses. In nearly all cases, staff had occasionally seen pellets and sometimes projectiles either under the skin or in the muscle. One individual mentioned that in such instances the kangaroos usually came from crop-growing areas.

Discussions with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service indicated that many of the applications for damage mitigation permits came from smaller holdings, where the problems of kangaroos were considered to be important. Larger holdings were not as sensitive to the presence of kangaroos. Some shooters felt that small landholders tend to 'take their frustrations out on kangaroos'.

5.1.2 Illegal killing of kangaroos

Incidences of illegal killing are even harder to document and to quantify. A article in The Land newspaper (November 11, 1999) described how up to 1,000 kangaroos were illegally shot in a week on one property 'because they could not get enough shoot and let lie tags from the National Parks and Wildlife Service to control numbers and protect crops'. Other descriptions of illegal killing were supplied by shooters and from the responses from the questionnaire.

The only example found of illegally shot kangaroos being used commercially, were of shooters supplying shot untagged kangaroos from their chillers to people for human consumption, or for pet food. In Western Australia there have been only a few prosecutions involving the kangaroo industry. Two were for supplying untagged carcasses to processors and two for processors accepting these. In both cases, the shooters had access to tags but did not use them.

In contrast, in Queensland between 1990 and 2000, there were 210 prosecutions involving 8726 macropods. There has been a large increase in the number of prosecutions in Queensland since 1999 due to the introduction of on-the-spot fines. A description was provided by agency staff in Queesnland of farmers who shoot kangaroos and wallabies in the body so that the animals can travel off their property before they die, thus decreasing the chances of detection and prosecution.

The responses from the mail survey (Section 3.6) also reported some instances of kangaroos being poisoned (1.7% of responses). Some people interviewed described how urea could be added to water troughs after stock had been withdrawn from the paddock. This can result in a slow death to any kangaroos drinking at the trough.

5.1.3 Conclusions

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 non-commercial killing than with commercial killing. It is assumed that this is largely because there is a much lower level of control over non-commercial killing compared to commercial killing. The Restricted Open Season in Western Australia allows landholders to shoot Western grey kangaroos without a licence, and most damage mitigation licences do not require the shot kangaroos to be tagged (recreational and personal use licences require tags). There is no requirement for the licence/permit holder (or their nominee) to undertake any training in humane shooting, or in firearms competency. In no State is there any system in place for monitoring the extent of cruelty associated with the non-commercial shooting of kangaroos and it seems unlikely that any could be organised under the present method of damage mitigation.

One of the questions asked of anyone involved in the kangaroo management during the survey, was to suggest some answer to the problem of cruelty associated with non-commercial killing. All acknowledged that there was a problem but, without radical action, there was little one could do. It was pointed out that it was the inhumane results from the damage mitigation licence system that provided bad publicity to the kangaroo industry.

One suggestion made by those interviewed was that all damage mitigation licence holders should successfully undertake that part of the game meat harvesting course that covers humane killing and also undertake a firearms competency course, including the shooting accuracy test. This might result in a reduction in inhumanely shot kangaroos. As well, some landholders might turn over the role of controlling kangaroos to commercial shooters. Some people were sceptical, in that they felt that a landholder trained in shooting skills may be able to body shoot more accurately. Others felt that it might force more landholders into illegal killing. Some felt that it was the responsibility of the landholder to pay for the killing of kangaroos, as the kangaroos were a pest that threatened the landholder's livelihood. There is some basis for this approach, as kangaroo management programs are partly based upon mitigating the adverse effects from kangaroos.

It was also put forward that, as an alternative, there should be no damage mitigation licensing system, ie all kangaroos should be killed by commercial kangaroo shooters and the carcasses sold to processors. This opinion comes not only from shooters and processors, who see the shoot-and-let-lie policy as wasteful and cruel, but also from the results from government inquiries.

Statements on the future of non-commercial killing of kangaroos have been made in a number of reports published since the 1985 survey. In 1996 a report prepared for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation [1] suggested that the stability of the kangaroo industry would be improved if industry was given the first option to shoot and use any kangaroos under the damage mitigation licensing system.

The 1988 report on kangaroos by the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare [2] emphasised the need to ensure that kangaroos killed under the non-commercial system were killed humanely:

'If kangaroos are to be killed in non-commercial areas, there is a responsibility on the government to ensure that such killing is done with the least possible cruelty. It is not enough for the government to make arrangements for such killing that are the least expensive to it without adequate provisions to minimise cruelty. A balance has to be reached between practicality and the minimisation of cruelty. The present system is too heavily weighted towards cruelty and, from an animal welfare point of view, needs to be redressed. Either the level of cruelty by non-commercial shooters must be decreased or a system similar to that suggested by the RSPCA [in the 1985 report] be introduced, or both.'

It is clear from this survey that concerns over the level of cruelty associated with non-commercial shooting of kangaroos are similar to those raised in 1985. Unfortunately there is little to no quantitative evidence to enable the determination of how valid these concerns are. It is clear that, to ensure compliance with the Code of Practice, all kangaroos should be shot humanely, whether shooting is done under commercial or non-commercial licence. The difficulties outlined above suggest that this principle cannot be maintained under the present policy of damage mitigation. (See next page for RSPCA Australia recommendations.)

5.2 Killing of orphaned pouch young and young at foot

One of the major animal welfare issues arising from the shooting of kangaroos, whether by commercial or non-commercial shooters, is the fate of dependant pouch young and dependant joeys at foot. Box 5.2 provides details of the Code's requirements and recommendations on the killing of pouch young. In summary, 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.

Discussions with shooters during this survey suggested that although smaller pouch young were killed immediately, young at foot were far more difficult to kill. Some shooters always let such mobile young go free, whilst others would attempt to catch and kill these animals. Several cases were reported of shooters bringing young at foot home, to be raised by the shooter himself, or by friends. The general approach by shooters was that if it was easy to catch and kill the young at foot then this was done. However, if the young at foot were too mobile and too much time would need to be spent in killing the animal, then it was left alone. This situation is similar to that described in the 1985 Report, which stated that most shooters found it difficult to kill larger young because of the size: 'they were too large to knock on the head and it would be dangerous to shoot them at close range' (p57). It was also said that 'the disposal of large pouch young was mainly by releasing them into the bush'.

RSPCA Australia recommendations - non-commercial killing

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.

Some shooters try to overcome this problem by avoiding shooting female kangaroos carrying large pouch young. This appears to be for two reasons - there is a repugnance to killing large young, and these shooters (usually full-time 'professional' shooters) believe that by leaving obviously breeding kangaroos within a property, there will be kangaroos available in the future. This is similar to the approach taken in the past by rabbit trappers who would leave one colony of rabbits on a property.

The survival rate of joeys that have lost their mother will be dependent on a combination of factors including the age, gender and health of the joey, the social structure of the mob, and the prevailing environmental conditions (availability of food, water and shelter). It is not known what the average survival rate of abandoned joeys is, however a proportion of kangaroos orphaned through shooting will die of starvation, exposure or predation in the days and weeks following the loss of their mother.

Box 5.2 Conditions in the Code of Practice relating to pouch young

The Code of Practice provides the following conditions dealing with pouch young (p6):

  1. 'If a female has been killed, the pouch must be searched for young as soon as the shooter reaches the carcass.
  2. The pouch young of a killed female must also be killed immediately, by decapitation or a heavy blow to the skull to destroy the brain, or shooting.'

The Code also states that (p5):

'Decapitation with a sharp instrument in very small hairless young or a properly executed heavy blow to destroy the brain in larger young are effective means of causing sudden and painless death.'

 

5.2.1 Methods of killing pouch young

 

The Code specifies three methods for killing pouch young, dependent on their size. It states that 'very small hairless young' may be killed by decapitation, while for 'larger young' a heavy blow to destroy the brain is appropriate. The Code also states that 'larger young' may also be killed by a shot to the brain. The shooter must use his judgement when deciding which of these different methods is the most appropriate, since no further advice is provided. A brief comparison of these killing methods with recent reviews of methods of euthanasia provides some indication of their relative appropriateness.

5.2.1.1 Decapitation

The use of decapitation as a euthanasia technique has been the subject of much debate. In 1986 the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) issued a recommendation that decapitation should only be used after the animal has been sedated or lightly anaesthetised as there was evidence that animals remained conscious for several seconds after the spinal cord has been severed [3]. Following on from this, in 1993 an ANZCCART review of the euthanasia of animals used for scientific purposes concluded that there was very little support for decapitation as a method of euthanasia [4]. The review recommended that decapitation be preceded by anaesthesia or stunning. A separate review by Blackmore [5], also in 1993, concluded that decapitation is not an acceptable form of euthanasia. However, in its 2000 report on euthanasia [6], the AVMA concluded that recent studies suggest that there is rapid loss of consciousness following decapitation and the recommendation for prior sedation was removed. The report does, however, make the point that the issue is still open to debate. Current advice from some institutional animal ethics committees is that decapitation must immediately be followed by crushing of the brain to ensure unconsciousness [7].

5.2.1.2 Heavy blow to the head

In general, the use of a heavy blow to the head is not considered a humane method of euthanasia for most species, in fact most reviews of euthanasia consulted in the preparation of this report did not list this as a method (even though other techniques considered unacceptable were listed and discussed). The 2000 AVMA report states that this technique must be evaluated in terms of the anatomy of the species concerned. For example, a blow to the head may be humane (if applied correctly) for neonatal pigs since these animals have a thin cranium, but the anatomical features of other species are likely to prevent the immediate destruction of the brain using this method. The report states that the technique should only be used by people with proper training and that they should be monitored for their proficiency.

5.2.1.3 Shooting

The suitability of shooting as a method of killing young kangaroos is dependent on the size of the animal, the range, and the placement of the shot. A properly placed gunshot should result in immediate insensibility and a rapid humane death. The same criteria for the placement of the gunshot for adult kangaroos should be applied to the use of this technique for young kangaroos. There are practical difficulties, however, with shooting at close range since rifles are adjusted for long-distance shooting and cannot be easily readjusted for accurate close-range shooting.

5.2.2 Conclusions

Although the Code of Practice provides some specific guidance on the killing of pouch young, the recommendations in the Code are ambiguous, particularly when it comes to ensuring that larger joeys are humanely killed. There is also some question over the appropriateness of the techniques recommended for killing pouch young. Without specific research into methods of killing pouch young it is difficult to make assumptions over the relative humaneness of these methods compared to alternatives. Furthermore, the Code provides no guidance on the appropriate action for young at foot that may still be dependent on the mother. It is difficult for a shooter to judge the survival chances of an individual joey and make the appropriate decision over whether to shoot a particular female.

There are two main approaches to the problem of dependent young that have been suggested over the years. Firstly, the 1985 Report recommended that research be undertaken to determine the most humane method of disposing of pouch young after the mother has been shot. This has not yet been undertaken. In particular, use of a captive bolt stunning gun was suggested as a method of dispatching pouch young in the future, however, this has not been further investigated. Secondly, there is the suggestion that in order to avoid the possibility of leaving larger dependent young to die through predation or starvation, the Code or appropriate licence could contain a condition that no female kangaroos carrying large young be shot (a practice that some shooters already employ). If such an approach were adopted, for example either through a condition in the Code or as a State regulation, then it could be monitored to some extent within the commercial system by inspecting carcasses to determine whether females with distended pouches have been shot.

RSPCA Australia recommendations - pouch young and young at foot

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.

 


 

[1] Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (1996) Review of the Impact of Government Policies on Kangaroo Industry Commercial Practices. RIRDC report no. 97/35.

[2] Commonwealth of Australia (1988) Kangaroos. Report of the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare.

[3] AVMA (1986) Report of the AVMA panel on euthanasia. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 188:252-268.

[4] Reilly JS (1993) Euthanasia of Animals used for Scientific Purposes. Australia and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching (ANZCCART).

[5] Blackmore (1993) Euthansasia; not always Eu. Australian Veterinary Journal 70(11):409-413.

[6] AVMA (2000) Report of the AVMA panel on euthanasia. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 218:669-695.

[7] Information provided by Professor Ivan Caple, School of Veterinary Science, The University of Melbourne.