Steve Irwin, while a popular defender of Australian wildlife, is not always on the side of the environment. One particularly publicised stand ignores several environmental factors and promotes industries that cause widespread environmental degradation in Australia.
Update 4th September 2006: Steve Irwin was killed after being stung in the chest by a sting ray during filming off North Queensland.
- Controversy over serving kangaroo meat at CHOGM resort
- Protest against the harvesting of kangaroos for human consumption by Steve Irwin and wildlife groups
- Arguments for the harvesting of kangaroos for human consumption
- Rebuttal of Irwin’s arguments
- Brief rant
Controversy over serving kangaroo meat at CHOGM resort
In January 2002, controversy arose over the fact that delegates to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) would be offered kangaroo steaks at an Australian themed barbeque during the meeting at the Sunshine Coast. The 50-odd delegates, during their immersion in Australian culture, would taste Australian cuisine, and get a good look at some of Australia’s native wildlife on the paw, rather than the plate, in a specially created little zoo at the Hyatt Regency Coolum resort. The resort – the center for the meetings – usually has kangaroo steaks on the menu, and the CHOGM delegates were to be offered this extremely tasty, nutritious, and environmentally and economically friendly meat.
However – a very vocal protest was made – representing the unsuitability of kangaroo meat for consumption at such a gathering, or, indeed, at any time. Steve Irwin, the Crocodile hunter, was largely the public face of the protest. Mr. Irwin was to be seen on various different shows and channels on national television, clutching a kangaroo joey, and saying approximately (I’m fairly sure this is it, but was unable to find the exact wording):
"Who could ever eat a true-blue little Aussie sheila like this? We should be expanding our excellent beef industry instead of eating our precious native animals."
Protest against the harvesting of kangaroos for human consumption by Steve Irwin and wildlife groups:
In an interview with Scientific American, in March 2001, Irwin had already expressed these views:
SA: Some people support moving out some of the cows and sheep and farming kangaroos instead.
STEVE: Oh yeah. I vehemently oppose that. I mean, that is wrong. Australia has already been hit by the bulldozers to grow those cows and sheep. We've got the dams in place, we've got the grazing areas already there. To turn around and say we could farm kangaroos and eat them is an absolute atrocity. Why would you want to eat the Australian icon? Here on the coat of arms is the emu and the kangaroo, the two animals that we want to farm and eat and kill. That's ridiculous. I'm a proud Australian, a very, very proud Australian. I believe that kangaroos and emus need to coexist with grazing areas. That's what has to happen. Anyone who thinks that they can grow kangaroos and get cows off the land is not thinking straight. It won't happen.
Again in the same article, though referring to crocodiles rather than kangaroos, the context took into account all wild animals:
But I sincerely and vehemently oppose "sustainable use," where people think they can farm crocodiles and kill them, and turn them into boots, bags and belts. Killing any wild animal will never save it, regardless of what anyone says.
The protest over the CHOGM menu – from wildlife groups as well as Mr. Irwin, was successful, in that kangaroo meat was removed from the restaurant menu during the span of the delegates’ stay. Steve Irwin and various wildlife groups such as the Australian Wildlife Protection Council (AWPC) continue to protest against the harvesting of kangaroos for any reason – game meat, pet meat or skins, and protest the culling of kangaroos as well. To a large extent, the protests must be seen as successful. In the Victorian newspaper “The Herald Sun” on September 21, 2002, it was reported that legislation had been passed banning the commercial killing of kangaroos in Victoria.
Arguments for the harvesting of kangaroos for human consumption:
I have already posted a fairly in depth write-up on this topic under the heading Kangaroo harvesting. The main points of the case for kangaroo meat consumption by humans are listed below. But first – a definition of what it is that I’m suggesting we do here:
Kangaroo harvesting is most beneficial to the environment when carried out on existing sheep or cattle stations. Kangaroos are not suited to being intensively farmed, and such an operation could not be commercially viable. Harvesting of kangaroos by a professional shooter on grazing properties allows the number of sheep/cattle to be slightly reduced without economic loss to the grazier, or the numbers of sheep and cattle can be maintained, or even slightly raised. The first option is most environmentally sound, and is my preferred option.
Benefits of kangaroo harvesting:
Benefits of eating kangaroo meat:
Rebuttal of Irwin’s arguments:
Again – I have countered the arguments presented by wildlife groups in my write-up under Kangaroo harvesting. Much of this is merely a summary:
“Anyone who thinks that they can grow kangaroos and get cows off the land is not thinking straight. It won't happen”.
Excuse me, Mr. Irwin, but it does. We won’t get all the cattle off the land, or all the sheep, and there’s no suggestion that we will. Not even the majority. But just moving a few is enough to reap huge benefits both environmentally, and, often, economically. During my studies (B.Sc. Resource and Environmental Management) I researched the topic of kangaroo harvesting very thoroughly, and was for some time in contact with graziers in central Queensland who were doing exactly that. Moving some sheep off the land, and harvesting some kangaroos for game meat. They monitored the numbers of kangaroos harvested, and those remaining. Their correspondence and data confirmed the information gleaned from countless papers on the subject. The strategy outlined in the previous section does work.
But I sincerely and vehemently oppose "sustainable use”… Killing any wild animal will never save it, regardless of what anyone says.
Well, firstly, the issue isn’t really “saving” the kangaroo – the numbers indicate that they’re doing just fine. But most species were wild once, even if only back in their dim genetic past. A species that becomes necessary to humans, and that is harvested sustainably, is going to be protected. Sheep and cattle are among the most populous mammal species on Earth – because we need them. Harvesting of wild animals does have to be within a strict, researched and policed quota – which this industry is. Sustainable use, by its very definition – works. If it didn’t – it wouldn’t be sustainable, now would it?
Why would you want to eat the Australian icon?
Why not? If he was talking about the other one – Emu – I could understand…I didn't like it (sneff said it can be fantastic though). But what’s sacred about the Australian emblem? Heck, the national emblem for Wales is the leek. Nuff said.
I believe that kangaroos and emus need to coexist with grazing areas. But he also believes (surprise surprise) that: I think it's an absolute disaster that Australia, the government, allowed kangaroo culling. Total disaster.
So – er…what are we meant to do, Mr. Irwin? The current practices are unsustainable. Even changing to something useful like rotational grazing isn’t going to fix it all. If we can’t cull kangaroos and we can’t harvest them…but we can’t lessen the number of cattle and sheep or the farmers’ll go broke – what then? Seriously, people – culling kangaroos is fairly necessary. If we can eat them as well – bonus. Nature reserves cull kangaroos – I know…I worked at one. It’s an environmentally acceptable – nay – necessary – practice.
Various other issues that wildlife groups such as AWPC claim are reasons to “end the slaughter”:
- Cruelty – The RSPCA has approved the current method of killing. Shooters must have a licence and are renowned for their marksmanship.
- Diseased meat – As mentioned above – the meat is extremely healthy indeed. Not a problem.
- Threat to species – None of the kangaroo species are endangered or listed as threatened in any way. National quotas for harvesting and culling are low, and seldom met. Kangaroos can repopulate quickly due to complex reproductive strategies, and most individuals killed are males – of which there is a surplus in the population.
This makes me so mad. An in-the-public-eye “conservationist” presenting impassioned arguments trying to stop this industry. He hasn’t done the research. Seriously - I researched this exhaustively. Ok, that was a few years back, but those facts don’t change. I haven’t accused him of just doing it for publicity, though that was my first thought, because after looking at what the Australia Zoo does, I don’t think that’s what Steve Irwin’s about, despite his dumb crocodile hunter antics. And in some ways he is well informed – his choice to not become a vegetarian was fairly environmentally sound.
Another statement he made, incidentally, which has nothing to do with kangaroo harvesting, was the following:
Scientific American: What about this idea of trying to save wildlife by keeping indigenous animals as pets, to increase their value and as a way to keep more of them alive?
STEVE: Yeah, I don't think it's realistic, and I oppose it. Because the animals that need our help the most—let's take one icon, the koala. No one could look after a koala. They have specialized requirements. One koala needs 300 eucalyptus trees per year, and that's if the trees are in good tip. And you need eight different species, so for us to cut for our koalas, we've got a guy on a full-time job.
Two words for you, Mr. Irwin, Sir: “Gould’s Finch”. The koala was a rotten example. Nobody in their right mind would suggest that strategy for the koala. But Gould’s Finch is only extant today because it was turned into a pet.
Oooh this guy makes me mad.
“Interview with Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin” – Sarah Simpson, Scientific American March 26, 2001.
The wild harvest and marketing of kangaroos: a case study of J. R. Hardman. Published Brisbane 1996.
Commercial harvesting of kangaroos in Australia Tony Pople. Published Canberra 1999.