I’ve tried not to double up too much on what sneff said in his kangaroo meat node. I will focus on the benefits of kangaroo harvesting – encompassing economic, ecological and health benefits. Also included is a rebuttal of some of the many arguments against the harvesting and consumption of kangaroos. The main body of this node is taken from my research of some years back into the subject while doing Environmental Management. See below for boring statistics, acknowlegements to other researchers, and sources. For the GOD of kangaroo research you cannot go past Gordon Grigg, of the University of Queensland Department of Zoology.
Background on environmental degradation:
The Australian environment is one of old soils, and vegetation that has evolved along with soft footed marsupials. Neither our soils nor our native grasses can long stand up to the heavy grazing by introduced hoofed species such as cattle and sheep. The impact of such grazing has been severe. Soil is eroded, the native grasses become locally extinct, taking with them many native species such as ground dwelling birds. Water supplies become extremely contaminated due to the high numbers of grazing animals.
Kangaroos are often in competition with hoofed grazers, thus further depleting resources, and resulting in less profit for the farmers and a lessened quality of life for both kangaroos and the introduced grazers.
Kangaroos cannot be intensively farmed:
It is not yet a viable option (and may never be) to replace sheep/cattle farming with kangaroo farming. Kangaroos are biologically unsuited to being intensively farmed, and it is currently illegal to harvest kangaroos that are restrained with a kangaroo proof fence. Such fences are also incredibly expensive. Those things jump! Kangaroo meat would have to rise unrealistically in price to make such an option profitable.
Kangaroo harvesting methods:
The option that is being increasingly pushed for is to harvest kangaroos for game meat from sheep and cattle stations. This can be done while maintaining the previous numbers of introduced grazers, or reducing the number of sheep/cattle maintained on the land.
Benefits of kangaroo harvesting:
With removing some of the kangaroos on an area of grazed land, the grazing pressure is reduced. This leads to a higher amount of biomass (generally grasses) and therefore a more consistently available food source for the remaining grazers. This leads to improved wool quality in sheep, and improvement in the health and growth of all grazers – hence higher meat quality. The farmers can thus make higher profits on meat and wool, in addition to the extra profits from kangaroo product sales.
Water quality is also dramatically improved in many cases. With the increase of ground cover, it has been noted that endemic ground dwelling birds sometimes repopulate an area. If graziers choose to reduce the number of cattle/sheep in an area (which they can do in the light of the increased profits) then the soil will be less compacted, leading to better growth of grass, better water absorption and less erosion.
In economic terms, the amount of meat gained per kilogram weight of animal is higher for kangaroos than for sheep or cattle. If the quota of kangaroos was harvested each year and sold for game meat, rather than pet meat or just skins, total per annum income from kangaroo harvesting could increase by 2000% (reference J. R. Hardman – full reference given below).
Benefits of consuming kangaroo meat:
Kangaroo meat is a very healthy alternative to other red meat. It is very lean – containing less than 2% fat, of which around 40% is polyunsaturated. In studies carried out to test cholesterol levels, subjects who ate kangaroo meat frequently had their cholesterol levels reduced, even though the total amount of cholesterol consumed remained the same. This was attributed to the high level of polyunsaturated fats in the kangaroo meat. Various food acids in the meat had a positive effect on blood flow and may reduce the risk of thrombosis.
Kangaroo meat is required to meet a health standard higher than that required for export quality beef. Of 200,000 kangaroo carcasses inspected for export as game meat, less than 0.2% had pathological conditions. Of these, most of the carcasses rejected were rejected because they carried a particular nematode, which is not, however, harmful to humans. This rate of disease is considerably lower than that found in the traditional domestic animals such as sheep and cattle.
Arguments against harvesting kangaroos:
Many environmental awareness groups, including Greenpeace, have at times launched vigorous campaigns against the harvesting of kangaroos for game meat. Their arguments have included the following:
- The killing method is cruel
- Young joeys are abandoned or slaughtered
- The meat is unhealthy
- The kangaroo is a national emblem
- The kangaroo is endangered
- The quota is too high and will deplete the populations drastically
Rebuttal of the above arguments:
Kangaroos are hunted at night with a spotlight and high powered rifle. The spotlight transfixes them, so they are stationary targets. The shooting is carried out according to a Code of Practice set out with heavy involvement from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). The animal must be shot through the head to give almost instantaneous death. Kangaroo shooters enjoy quite a reputation for marksmanship. Considering the cost of ammunition, it is also in the shooters’ economic interests to kill the animal with one shot. Any pouch young are despatched by a blow to the head – again in accordance with the Code of Practice. Any young not in the pouch are old enough to fend for themselves. Photographs used by animal rights groups showing kangaroos wounded by body shots are most likely to be pictures of animals wounded by farmers or "sporting" hunters, as opposed to licenced harvesters.
Health issues were discussed above.
The kangaroo as a National Emblem:
Well, I can’t fight this one. My arguments – that it doesn’t MATTER that it’s an emblem – it tastes good, it’s healthy, it’s good for the environment – so chow down – are of no avail against people who believe that the National Emblem is sacred. You’ve got to make up your own minds on this one. Just remember that the Leek is the National Emblem of Wales.
The kangaroo is endangered:
Like heck it is. The 7 species (listed at the end if you’re interested) of Macropod that are exported are all of either abundant or common conservation status. The three big kangaroos, which make up over 95% of the commercial harvest, are all abundant. For some time these three species were listed in the U.S. as threatened or endangered – but luckily that was fixed up some time ago. Really, believe me – those things aren’t threatened.
Depletion of the population:
All the three major kangaroo species have increased in number over the last 10 years, the Red Kangaroo by around 3 million individuals. Between 1981 and 1998, the quota allowable for harvest was met once. In all the other years in that period, the harvest did not take the maximum amount allowed. In that period, the quota was never more than 12.5 percent of the total number of the three major species.
Kangaroos reproduce constantly and quickly. There are at least 4 times as many males in a population as are required (one male can fertilize many females) – and as kangaroo shooters prefer the males due to their higher body mass, the harvesting has little effect on the breeding capabilities of the population. In normal conditions a female kangaroo will produce 1 young every 8 to 9 months. Due to embryonic diapause (the ability of Macropods to keep an embryo in a stage of suspended development) a population can recover very quickly from any major decrease.
Rant against bleeding heart animal lovers:
As I mentioned above, environmental awareness groups such as Greenpeace often campaign against kangaroo harvesting. If these groups cared about what was best for the environment, they would do the research and discover that not only would the environment, the graziers and the introduced grazers be better off – the kangaroos would be also (well, except the ones that were actually dead, but hey, we have to eat). This is why these people get up my nose. Too many times have they launched huge campaigns and set the kangaroo game meat industry back by decades. A few years back a major U.K. supermarket chain stopped stocking kangaroo meat in response to one of these campaigns. Do your own research, people, and don’t fall for the “cute little baby joeys being left to die” line.
Try some kangaroo meat. Find a place that cooks it properly (medium rare at the most) preferably with a strong marinade or perhaps a sauce or glaze made from Australian native fruits such as the Quandong. It tastes fantastic, it’s good for you, good for the farmers, good for the environment, good for the sheep and the cattle…basically it’s just good. Give it a go. If you don’t like it, so be it, but make up your own mind.
Acknowledgements and resources:
Most of this research was done some years ago. Acknowledgements to Alex Weekes, my research partner at the time. I checked some facts for this write up in the following papers:
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.
The seven species of Macropod that are harvested for export are as follows:
- Macropus rufus – the Red Kangaroo. Abundant
- Macropus giganteus - the Eastern Grey Kangaroo. Abundant
- Macropus fuliginosus - the Western Grey Kangaroo. Abundant
- Macropus robustus - Common Wallaroo. Abundant
- Macropus parryi - Whiptail Wallaby. Common
- Macropus rufogriseus - Bennet’s Wallaby. Common
- Thylogale billiardierii - Tasmanian Pademelon. Abundant