Did you know that there are over 60 different species of kangaroo and their close relatives? How many kangaroos do you think live in Australia in total? 10,000? 1 million? 10 million? In fact, the population size of just the four most abundant kangaroo species has fluctuated between 15 million and 50 million over the past 25 years, depending on seasonal conditions. That’s compared to Australia’s human population of about 23.5 million, its cattle population of about 29.3 million, and its sheep population of about 75.5 million. The kangaroo population has in fact increased over the years as a result of land being cleared and water sources developed for farming purposes, while at the same time there has been a decrease in predators such as dingoes, leading to more habitats for the ‘roos to flourish in.
Following on from our recent post on resources for researching animal law, I thought I’d look specifically at Australian laws related to kangaroos. Some of these laws have come up again in court this year with animal protection groups trying to stop the sixth annual conservation cull of kangaroos in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The seven-week long cull went ahead, albeit later than originally planned, and ended earlier this month with more than 1,500 kangaroos killed across eight nature reserves, which was 95% of the quota that the ACT government had set. During this period, there were various protests as well as some vandalism of government property.
Recent Court Decisions
The ACT government argues that culling is needed to manage the kangaroo population in certain areas in order to protect native grassland and the associated ecosystem that is affected by kangaroo grazing. In allowing for licenses to be issued in relation to the recent cull, the court held that
The decision to issue each licence involves a balancing of competing ecological interests. On the one hand is the preservation of the existing populations of kangaroos in the relevant reserve area. On the other hand is the assessment of the reserves as containing endangered communities. The proposed culling does not threaten the eastern grey kangaroo as a species. However, allowing overgrazing and degradation of the environment may lead to significant impact on the endangered communities within the reserves.
This ruling followed a similar challenge to a license granted by the ACT government to the Department of Defence in 2009 to undertake a cull on land it used for a training facility. In that case the court concluded that
There is compelling evidence that the number of Eastern Grey Kangaroos at the MTA [Majura Training Area] has been increasing rapidly in recent years to the point where it has exceeded the carrying capacity of the land and, as a consequence, has caused substantial damage to declared ecological communities and declared threatened species. In order to prevent further damage and to enable the degraded areas to recover, it is necessary to reduce the kangaroo population at the MTA substantially.
The ACT is not the only state or territory of Australia that allows for kangaroos to be killed in quite large numbers. However, different from the ACT, the hunting in some other places may be undertaken for both conservation and commercial purposes. The federal government has approved management plans related to the sustainable harvesting of certain species of kangaroo (or wallabies in Tasmania) by licensed hunters in five states: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and Western Australia. Non-commercial culling of kangaroos is also permissible under the laws of the Northern Territory and Victoria. This past May the Victoria government announced a two-year trial that allows for meat from kangaroos killed pursuant to a wildlife management permit to be processed for pet food.
The following is an overview of the legal framework applicable to the killing of kangaroos:
- Federal law: The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (along with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Regulation 2000 (Cth)) requires that states develop wildlife trade management plans, which are then approved by the federal government, in order for permits to be issued for the commercial export of kangaroo meat or other kangaroo products. The export of live kangaroos is prohibited except for things like inter-zoo exchanges. Under Australia’s food export legislation, kangaroo meat is subject to a system of checks and audits to ensure it meets the applicable standard.
- National codes of practice for the humane shooting of kangaroos and wallabies: there is one code of practice regarding harvesting for commercial purposes and one that applies where the shooting is for non-commercial purposes (such as ACT’s recent cull). License holders must comply with the commercial code in order to sell kangaroo carcases to a registered fauna dealer. Basically, the requirement is for kangaroos to be shot in the head. Joeys must also be killed according to prescribed methods. I’ll leave it to you to read the details if you like!
- State and territory laws on wildlife protection and management and animal welfare: these laws may include provisions on permissible reasons for killing kangaroos for non-commercial purposes (such as damage mitigation and recreational hunting), as well as rules relating to commercial harvesting. Essentially, the federal government is only involved in relation to kangaroo products being exported overseas; states and territories have primary responsibility for managing kangaroos.
- State and territory management plans: in accordance with these plans, and following aerial surveys to count kangaroos, the states set annual quotas for the commercial harvesting of kangaroos in different parts of the state. These quotas, and annual reports on the previous year’s harvest, are submitted to the relevant federal agency for information purposes.
I’ve provided links to the various instruments of different states and territories at the end of this post.
Trade in Kangaroo Products
Human consumption of kangaroo meat became legal in all Australian states and territories in 1993, having previously only been legal in South Australia (the other use for the meat is in pet food). However, kangaroo meat has been exported to Europe since 1959, and it is now exported to more than fifty-five countries. Apparently Russia became a significant buyer of kangaroo meat from Australia, while the US and Asia are increasingly important. Russia banned kangaroo meat imports in 2008 and 2009 due to bacterial contamination concerns, easing the ban in 2012, and it seems now that the country’s most recent sanctions on agricultural products from Australia could again impact the trade.
Kangaroo hides are also exported all over the world.
In 2010, the year for which the most recent collated data is available from the federal government, around 1.5 million kangaroos were killed for commercial purposes across four states. The total quota for that year was over four million. The numbers were much less than five years earlier in 2005, when more than 3 million kangaroos were killed under commercial harvest quotas. The kangaroo industry organization estimates that the industry currently generates more than AU$270 million per year in income.
U.S. Import Ban
The commercial harvesting of kangaroos constitutes “the largest consumptive mammalian wildlife industry in the world.” However, as indicated by the above legal challenges, the practice, and the laws and regulations that allow for it, have certainly not been without controversy. In fact, in 1974, the United States banned the import of kangaroo products over concerns about the kangaroo population, and the Australian government subsequently banned exports for a period in order to develop new regulations. The US import ban continued until 1981, when government officials stated that “they had lifted the ban because the kangaroo population was now estimated at 32 million in Australia and the country had imposed hunting quotas.” The final rule allowing the continuation of the importation of kangaroo products into the U.S. was later published in 1983. However, this wasn’t the end of the debate.
In 1984, the US Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew a proposed rule to remove three kangaroo species from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife (see 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544) after being notified that a drought in Australia had affected the population. There were also various petitions by environmental groups in the late 1980s seeking the reinstatement of the import ban. US officials even visited Australia in 1990 to “investigate the population status of the three kangaroo species (survey methods, numbers, and trends) and the implementation of management programs.” Then, in 1995, the Service published a detailed final ruling delisting the three species, stating that it was “the present sufficiency in kangaroo management in mainland Australia that causes the Service to find that the action to delist the three species of kangaroos is warranted.”
The debate during the 1980s also saw the European Parliament imposing a partial ban on the import of kangaroo skins, and in the US a bill was introduced seeking to impose stricter controls. Since that time, groups have sought import bans in some jurisdictions, and there have been court cases in Australia, in addition to those cited above, challenging decisions related to killing kangaroos.
State and Territory Instruments
Below are links to the various relevant legal instruments of the four states that allow for the commercial harvesting of kangaroos (or wallabies, in the case of Tasmania) and to ACT instruments that relate to non-commercial culling. The Law Library of Congress also holds several secondary resources that provide information and discussion related to animal law in Australia.
Australian Capital Territory
- Nature Conservation Act 1980 (currently under review)
- Nature Conservation Regulation 1982
- Nature Conservation Strategy 2013-2023
- Animal Welfare Act 1992
- Kangaroo Management Plan (2010)
New South Wales
- National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974
- National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2009
- Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979
- NSW Commercial Kangaroo Harvest Management Plan 2012-2016 (and annual reporting)
- Nature Conservation Act 1992 and several subordinate instruments, including the Nature Conservation (Macropod) Conservation Plan 2005 and the current Nature Conservation (Macropod Harvest Period 2014) Notice 2013.
- Animal Care and Protection Act 2001
- Queensland Wildlife Trade Management Plan for Export: Commercially Harvested Macropods 2013-17
- Quota and harvest data
- National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972
- National Parks and Wildlife (Kangaroo Harvesting) Regulations 2003
- Kangaroo Management Plan 2013-2017
- Quota and harvest data
- Nature Conservation Act 2002
- Wildlife (General) Regulations 2010
- Animal Welfare Act 1993
- Animal Welfare Standard for the Hunting of Wallabies in Tasmania