Commercial harvesting of Kangaroos in Australia

by Tony Pople and Gordon Grigg
Department of Zoology, The University of Queensland
for Environment Australia, August 1999
Chapters 10,11,12 and 13 and Appendix 1 provided by staff at Environment Australia



Because the harvest of kangaroos is conducted by shooting, under field conditions, there has been considerable focus on whether or not the method can be and is conducted humanely.

Accordingly, a Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos was developed and implemented in 1987, had an update in 1990, and is still in force (see below).

The question of humane killing of kangaroos has been addressed in two formal enquiries, one funded by ANPWS (now EA) and conducted by the RSPCA in 1985, the other a Senate Select Committee in 1988.

RSPCA investigation and report

The RSPCA Australia (1985) study concluded that 'if achieved correctly, kangaroo culling is considered one of the most humane forms of animal slaughter. An animal killed instantly within its own environment is under less stress than domestic stock that have been herded, penned, etc.' . Also, it found that head shooting was more humane and less likely to cause wounding than chest shooting and that 'All full-time professional shooters observed maintained a high standard in their shooting technique and equipment. There was no evidence of any intentional cruelty from these shooters'.

Most of the areas identified as needing improvement were associated with non-commercial killing. However, some issues relating to industry operations were raised also. For example the study found that the average incidence of head shooting was 85% (81% in Western Australia, 95% in New South Wales), 'not as high as that usually quoted' and that the variation in the percentage of head shots was based upon industry demands and the preferences and abilities of individual shooters. It was suggested that this could be addressed by carcass inspections and penalties for inhumanely killed kangaroos. Further, concern was raised that 90% of shooters in the industry were part-time, some 'unskilled in shooting technique' and these 'are the main contributors to inhumanely shot kangaroos'. RSPCA recommended that 'the industry should be stronger in its demands for humanely killed kangaroos by using only full-time shooters and accepting only head-shot carcasses and skins'.

An industry based primarily on full-time shooters is unlikely to be practical while kangaroo products remain at a low value. However, there have been improvements made since the RSPCA report in 1985, New South Wales having taken legislative steps to require only head-shot carcasses or skins to be allowed to enter the trade, and the culture of head shooting is now much better developed throughout the industry than it was when the study was done. Indeed, so many changes have occurred in that time that its validity can no longer be certain. On the other hand, RSPCA has from time-to-time expressed dissatisfaction that there has been comparatively little effort made at examining and implementing the recommendations of the report, their particular concern being the concerns about the non-commercial kill, which is outside the scope of the present document.

Other recommendations were that there is a need for further research into the impact of projectiles upon kangaroos and into the humane disposal of pouch young.

Code of Practice for the humane shooting of kangaroos

By law, all shooters are required to abide by a Code of Practice which was endorsed by The Council of Nature Conservation Ministers (CONCOM) (now the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council, ANZECC) on 30 May 1985. The one exception is non-commercial shooters in Western Australia which are not required to abide by the minimum specifications for firearms and ammunition if they do not possess the appropriate firearm license. The Code sets an achievable standard of humane conduct and is the minimum required of people shooting kangaroos, defined as all members of the family Macropodidae. It ensures that all people intending to shoot a free-living kangaroo are aware of the welfare aspects of the activity.

Elements of the Code are as follows:

  • The Code regards sudden and painless death as the only acceptable means of killing kangaroos. This means that the primary objective of the shooter must be to achieve instantaneous loss of consciousness followed by rapid death without regaining consciousness.
  • Prevailing conditions must be assessed and where conditions are such as to raise doubts about accomplishing a sudden and painless kill, shooting must not be attempted.
  • All shooting of kangaroos is subject to law. Except where specifically exempted by law, States and Territories will require the shooter to have a licence or permit issued by the Government Wildlife Authority in that State or Territory. Certain conditions or restrictions will usually apply to that licence or permit.
  • The Code is divided into three sections which cover the method of shooting, despatch of injured kangaroos and pouch young, and shooting for scientific purposes.
  • It specifies the firearms, ammunition and points of aim (head) which are to be used.
  • Copies of the Code are available through Environment Australia (Biodiversity Group) or State and Territory fauna conservation agencies.

The Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare (1988)

The Australian Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare (1988) had as its broad terms of reference to inquire and report on 'the question of animal welfare in Australia with particular reference to:

  1. Interstate and overseas commerce in animals
  2. Wildlife protection and harvesting
  3. Animal experimentation
  4. Codes of practice of animal husbandry for all species
  5. Use of animals in sport'

The Committee's general conclusions relating to the kangaroo industry were

  • '.... that a balance must be struck between the need to preserve kangaroos in abundant numbers and the need to use Australia's resources for the well being of all.'
  • '.... that a proper balance involves the development of a strictly controlled management program.'

The Committee went on to make 27 separate recommendations relating to the kangaroo industry. Many of these were in place already or under examination at the time of the Committee's report. Of the remainder, most are now either completely or partly implemented. Some are no longer relevant or practical. Strict adherence to and enforcement of the 'Code of Practice' (see below) was emphasised by the Committee.

Other issues

Under a scenario of a higher value kangaroo industry (Grigg 1997) (see Chapter 8), the proportion of full-time professional shooters would likely rise in relation to non-commercial shooters and the number of pest destruction licenses would likely decrease. Grigg also, identified the need for research into whether or not the young-at-foot that are mobile enough to flee are able to survive without their mothers. Currently there are differing opinions, and Grigg thought that in the future industry there would be greater selectivity exercised in the harvest with one possibility being that the largest males could be left, to provide more stable social structures.

In that context it is interesting that one company apparently had a contract in 1997 with a supermarket chain in the United Kingdom which specified supply of male meat only, presumably to ameliorate concern about joeys and young-at-foot. This is an intriguing idea which needs to be explored further.

Grigg pointed out also that how an animal lives is more important than how it dies and that, with the heavy grazing pressure on rangelands, many of the resident herbivores spend much time nutritionally deprived, especially under drought conditions. This further emphasises the need for better rangeland management.