Have you ever had that experience whereby an animal chooses you to be their champion? It is a special feeling but one that comes with great responsibility, especially when the animal is highly persecuted such as the kangaroo.

Orphaned Kangaroo
Orphaned kangaroo

In 2009 I was working at the University of Technology Sydney, researching all facets of environmental sustainability. I was researching the impacts of the factory farming of pigs on the environment for an Australian based NGO called Voiceless. Their directors approached me to see if we could form a research collaboration at the university focussed on kangaroos. We established a think tank for kangaroos known as THINKK to foster a greater understanding about kangaroos in a sustainable landscape. Our research team critically reviewed the scientific evidence underpinning kangaroo management practices and explored the potential for non-lethal management options as well as kangaroo ecology, welfare, human health, and ethics.

Louise supervising a kangaroo tranquillised for research into movements & densities

As the manager of THINKK I came to learn about the significant threats facing kangaroos, with the most significant threat from human intolerance of kangaroos in agricultural landscapes. This intolerance has led to the creation of the commercial kangaroo industry, that has grown to be the largest land-based wildlife industry in the world. The largest due to the millions of adult kangaroos and their young killed annually. Four species of the larger kangaroos are killed for meat, skins and leather such as the Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroo, Red Kangaroo and Wallaroo. The commercial kangaroo industry has significant negative outcomes in terms of kangaroo wellbeing, survival and role in landscapes and Australian culture.

I came to appreciate everything about the species that had chosen me. Gentleness yet immense strength, their adaptability to one of harshest landscapes in the world, their survival under immense persecution, their ability to have fun and play and strong loyalties to their social groups, called mobs.

Eastern Grey Kangaroo and her joey

Kangaroos have evolved to become Australia’s top herbivore and largest marsupial, uniquely adapted to Australian ecosystems. Marsupials are pouched mammals. When a kangaroo is born it is barely the size of a kidney bean, the joey makes the journey from the birth canal to the pouch, where he or she will be nurtured for several months before venturing out into the world beyond. Joeys return to the pouch for nurture and safety, until the age of two years when they become independent from their mother. Kangaroo species establish strong mobs that maintain social knowledge and culture through matrilineal bonds (mother to daughter) and shared experiences.

Kangaroos are ecosystem engineers, meaning that that contribute to the health of Australia’s landscapes. They consume plant biomass that contributes to regeneration, spread the seeds of native grasses when foraging and fertilize nutrient deficient soils. Kangaroos are sometimes referred to as the gardeners of Australia as they play a central role in the health and persistence of grassland ecosystems. Kangaroo fur traps spores and seeds which can then be distributed throughout the landscape as they move around, dropping off into ready-made holes created by their large toes.

Kangaroos face multiple threats including commercial and non-commercial shooting, extreme weather events i.e, drought, fire and flooding, habitat destruction, disease, vehicle strike, entanglement in fencing and restriction of movement by exclusion fencing (large fencing erected around multiple livestock grazing properties). These threats impact kangaroo conservation, welfare and social groups.

Kangaroos embody cultural, social, ecological and spiritual significance.  Much like lions, wolves and whales, kangaroos are iconic species that are valued and recognised worldwide. Yet across Australia they are relentlessly persecuted. Every night when the sun goes down the violence towards kangaroos starts. Kangaroos are shot at night when they are most active. The shooting of kangaroos causes immense suffering from the high wounding rates of adults, the inhumane ways that dependent young are killed or left to fend for themselves and the immense damage to kangaroo culture and society. The violence directed towards kangaroos stands in stark contrast to their gentle nature, mostly grazing in grasslands and raising their young.

Despite being a native and protected species, in reality kangaroos are afforded little protection from cruelty. The legal protection of kangaroos is the responsibility of State and Territory Governments. Each state government is responsible to safeguard kangaroo populations so that they do not become endangered, to ensure that legal protection and welfare provisions are enforced and that management frameworks are robust and transparent. After 12 years of researching and advocating on behalf of kangaroos, I have concluded that state governments are failing to adequately protect kangaroos. Instead, the government now serves the interests of a small profit driven kangaroo industry that institutionalises cruelty towards kangaroos and entrenches a view that kangaroos are a ‘pest’ or a ‘resource’.

Louise providing evidence at the Parliamentary Inquiry with  NGO Kangaroos Alive

In June, I was asked to provide expert testimony to the New South Wales Parliamentary Inquiry into the health and wellbeing of kangaroos and other macropods. I was excited that finally kangaroos would get a voice, and thrilled to represent them. I believe that it is time we adopt gentler and kinder ways to live alongside kangaroos. My testimony critiqued five key areas in relation to kangaroos are managed across the state:

  • The lack of clear management objectives in the state Kangaroo Management Plan;
  • The methods used to set commercial kangaroo ‘take’ quotas and why all forms of mortality were not considered in the quotas;
  • The concern over localised depletion of kangaroos across the state;
  • Lack of monitoring when kangaroos are being killed and enforcement of protections;
  • Lack of efforts and research to identify ways to coexist with kangaroos.

This inquiry was long overdue as it had been 25 years since an independent investigation into the management of kangaroos in NSW was conducted.  The committee in charge of the inquiry received 405 submissions. The committee comprised of all major political parties heard testimony from stakeholders including the commercial kangaroo industry, Indigenous Australians, ecologists, statisticians, sustainability experts, wildlife carers, advocates and government wildlife and agricultural representatives.

The committee recently released a final report with six findings and 23 recommendations. An earlier version of the report had 14 findings and 26 recommendations. The final report summarises the expert testimony, inquiry findings and recommendations to reform how kangaroos, wallaroos and wallabies are managed across NSW. However, much to the dismay of kangaroo protectors, including myself,  many of the findings that were critical of the government and the kangaroo industry role in cruelty towards kangaroos were removed. Similarly, the recommendations were also significantly watered down to such an extent that it remains to be seen whether the wellbeing of kangaroos is improved or if the status quo of lethal treatment of kangaroos persists.

Kangaroo hopping

Those of us that rise to the challenge of being kangaroo protectors must imbue the spirit of the kangaroo and keep moving forward regardless of hurdles encountered along the way. Our momentum to protect kangaroos and foster coexistence is unstoppable. The International Kangaroo Protection Alliance (IKPA) was formed in 2021 to increase the visibility both nationally and internationally about kangaroos and their need for greater protection. The alliance is comprised of 15 Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and independent ecologists, economists, statisticians, lawyers, writers and others who have extensively studied and advocated for kangaroos and wallabies across Australia. IKPA hopes this inquiry will inspire a similar investigation in other states that kill kangaroos for commercial and non-commercial purposes.

IKPA’s vision is for kangaroos to be safe from human harm whilst being recognised for their importance in Australia’s ecosystem and for their deep connection to Australia’s Indigenous peoples and country. The International Wildlife Coexistence Network supports efforts to encourage human – kangaroo coexistence. Through awareness raising, education, and challenging policy we can change hearts and minds to usher in a new era the “compassionocene” defined by our compassion for other animals.


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