Kangaroos Treated as Trees for the Woodchip Industry
Leading Australian scientist, David Croft, says the Federal Government is treating kangaroos as "a wildlife woodchip industry," and has failed to address basic animal welfare ethics in its new draft shooting code. Dr. Croft is director of the Arid Zone Research Station (University of New South Wales). He said that all codes of practice covering commercial use of animals should be strictly regulated and enforced to minimize suffering and cruelty. "These codes should never be about business as usual or letting a commercial industry off lightly in terms of animal welfare," he said. A new draft code for the humane killing of kangaroos and wallabies, posted in January 2008 on the Department of Environment website, has angered animal welfare groups by recommending pouch joeys be killed by "forcefully swinging" the head against a vehicle tow bar. It also advocates use of shotguns to kill joeys and young "at-foot" kangaroos (those that have left the pouch, but are still dependent on the mother).
Dr. Croft said the draft code continued to ignore contentious welfare issues that had been debated for more than 20 years and was "treating joeys in the same way as by-catch in a commercial fishery. It is a joke. This code would definitely not stand up if it was subjected to the level of scrutiny by an animal welfare ethics committee that is required when scientists seek approval to use animals for research. You can't have two different rules - a stringent welfare code for scientists and a relaxed rule for commercial shooters. If the Government seriously wants to improve the national code, there should be an appropriate course for shooters and strictly enforced animal welfare regulations. If they seriously think a blow to the head is the most humane way to kill a kangaroo, then a special tool should be developed for shooters."
"This is meant to be a professional industry and it should be regulated and conducted in a professional manner." A ministerial working group was appointed four years ago to revise the draft code for killing kangaroos and wallabies after a report by RSPCA Australia raised concerns about barbaric practices used to dispose of joeys when female kangaroos were killed. The RSPCA suggested fourteen key recommendations, none of which are incorporated in the new draft code. Controversy over the national code has erupted as the New South Wales Government is considering opening a new area for commercial shooting, extending from the border between New South Wales and Queensland to Victoria, along the eastern coast, and inland to Mudgee and Bathurst. This would take the number of commercial zones to seventeen, and extend harvesting across the entire state. A spokeswoman said the Government would announce its decision in March 2008.
The Federal Government has denied claims published in January 2008 in the Canberra Times that sections of the 2006 State of the Environment Report were rewritten because they did not reflect government policy on kangaroo harvesting. The benchmark environment report, prepared for the Howard government by an independent scientific committee, suggested there was no data to back claims that kangaroo harvesting was sustainable and no reliable data on kangaroo populations or distribution.
The report was later changed to state that kangaroo harvesting was sustainable and based on "robust data." In a written statement, Department of Environment deputy secretary, Gerard Early, said information in the report "was found to be incorrect and was immediately revised to include more accurate information on the sustainability of kangaroo harvesting."
"The database was changed because it was inaccurate, not in any way due to political pressure," Mr. Early said. Chief executive of the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia, John Kelly, said Department officials told him the changes were "simply a result of two sections of the department not talking to each other. It was only when the report came out that they realized it didn't contain the information on the robust data we had supplied to the Department over a period of around 30 years. They changed it to make it more accurate." But senior government sources and scientists contracted to write sections of the report said the changes "caused a real stink" within the Department "because they were seen as undermining the report's independence."
Canberra Times, 01/09/2008