Kangaroos in crisis

Calls to change how Australia treats its national emblem.

Roo Rescue founder Kim Grant rehabilitates orphaned joeys.

Kim Grant

Roo Rescue founder Kim Grant rehabilitates orphaned joeys.

Kangaroos are Australia’s national emblem, but questions have arisen over whether Federal and State governments gives their welfare enough consideration.

Kim Grant has been around kangaroos all her life and said more needed to be done by Australian governments and insurance companies to protect these native animals from becoming road kill or pet meat.

Ms Grant and her partner, Graham “Daddy Roo” Lewis, founded ‘Roo Rescue’, a backyard joey rehabilitation project situated in WA’s South West, near Bunbury.

The couple use their own funds to care for joeys who have lost their mums until they can rehabilitate the young kangaroos back into the bush. Starting with a single joey 10 years ago, Ms Grant said they now have 14 joeys in their care.

Most of Roo Rescue’s joeys come to them after their mothers have been hit by a car or truck, which is an increasingly common occurrence.

Last year, AAMI insurance reported 7,992 kangaroo road collisions, up from 7290 the previous year. Kangaroos made up 83 per cent of all animal collisions.

This year, kangaroo collisions became an even more pressing issue with an ABC report in April detailing how 30 of the animals had been killed on a road near Whiteman park in just one week since the road opened.

A report by Huddle Insurance found that collisions with kangaroos cost drivers more than $6 million in excess per year, compelling the insurer to introduce its own “Kanga Cover”.

Ms Grant said there was no denying the enormity of the issue.

“You can see it very clearly. You can drive along certain back streets in particular and there’s just bones everywhere,” she said.

“It’s an ongoing problem”.

Ms Grant said the cause stemmed from the growth of the human population and infrastructure development since western settlement.

“The western grey kangaroo has been around for 5 million years, western humans have only been here less than 300 and the damage done to the country is absolutely horrific,” she said.

“It has been at the cost of our own native animals”.

In addition to the road collisions, kangaroos in WA were systematically killed in the almost 100 year-old practise of harvesting them for pet meat, food and skins, which Ms Grant described as “the longest ongoing wildlife massacre in the world”.

The culling was allowed by the government on the premise that kangaroos were overabundant and damaging to agricultural practises and native biodiversity.

The Department of Environment and Energy website stated the ‘pest’ status of kangaroos was the main reason they were culled, while selling the by-products of meat and skins counteracted the pest control cost to graziers.

“The main reason an industry is approved is almost certainly because of the extent to which kangaroos are regarded as a pest; and their commercialisation has provided a self-funding pest control agent,” the Department stated.

Ms Grant said she believed profit was the real reason for the culling.

Her perspective was mirrored by other environmentalists and the Australian Society for Kangaroos, who point out that the yearly culling has little proven benefit to the environment.

The RSPCA shared this concern, stating on their website, “Kangaroo management plans treat kangaroos as a sustainable resource available for commercial use, rather than making a decision for control as a result of examining of their impact on the environment”.

Kangaroos cause considerable damage to fences when they push through them at the bottom, and reducing this damage is one purpose of the culling.

Ms Grant argued a better solution would be for farmers to install inexpensive swing gates on their fences.

The mesh gates hang straight down from hinges and swing open when pushed from either side, similar to a cat flap, and were just big enough for kangaroos to pass through.

“The kangaroos learn very quickly how to push against them and slide through,” Ms Grant said.

Ms Grant said the gates would be much more effective at reducing kangaroo-caused damage to fencing than mass culling the animals.

She said swing gates would also help reduce the high number of kangaroos who were painfully killed when they tried to jump ring-lock fencing and hooked their hind legs in the wire.

The injury was usually a death sentence for kangaroos because they could not

survive after severely damaging their leg tendons.

Kangaroos are only one of the many animal species being impacted by humans’ pursuit of profits and development. A 2018 report by the World Wildlife Fund took the world media by storm when it announced the world was experiencing the sixth mass extinction.

According to the report, human development and over-exploitation had pushed species extinction rates 100 to 1000 times higher than they were before human pressure became a factor.

Since AD 1500, 75 per cent of all species that have gone extinct were harmed by over-exploitation or agricultural activity.

Roo Rescue and others who care for kangaroos are denied funding or charity status because kangaroos are currently considered an abundant species.

Despite their abundance, Ms Grant said she was concerned for the future of kangaroos in WA.

Kangaroos have a high mortality rate in the wild, and never experience population explosions due to being singular offspring.

Studies estimated 74 per cent of Western Grey kangaroos died within their first 12 months.

However, Ms Grant said a solution to the suffering of kangaroos in WA was not out of reach.

She said major problems on the roads could be avoided if the government took kangaroos into account when planning infrastructure developments.

“It comes back to our government and Main Roads in particular. When they’re laying these roads out, they can clearly see where the kangaroo highways are, and they’ve been there for a millennia,” she said.

According to Ms Grant, kangaroos use the same pathway every time they cross a certain area and where these pathways intersect with roads would be optimal for wildlife underpasses or overpasses.

“Kangaroos don’t cross roads. Roads cross kangaroos’ backyards,” she said.

Main Roads WA spokesman Dean Roberts said the government agency started constructing WA’s first fauna overpass over Tonkin Highway in May.

“The purpose of the fauna bridge and fauna underpasses is to allow native animals access to habitat that has been fragmented by the construction of Tonkin Highway,” he said.

Overpasses and underpasses have proven successful in other countries.

A study on an overpass on the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff found that it reduced wildlife-vehicle crashes from an average of 12 per year to just 2.5.

Around the world, infrastructure planners increasingly incorporate overpasses and underpasses into their developments.

Overpasses are used by elk, grizzly bears and moose in the US and Canada, and underpasses are used by elephants in Kenya, water voles in London, badgers in British Columbia and pumas in Brazil.

Although installing underpasses would cost the state resources, Ms Grant argued it would be financially viable for insurance companies to sponsor their construction.

“It’s going to save millions if not billions of dollars in insurance payouts and save human lives too, because people are critically injured sometimes when they have these run ins with these big animals,” she said.

Ms Grant said ultimately the WA government and corporations needed to take greater responsibility for the welfare of kangaroos in WA.

“They’re our national emblem, but they are treated very poorly.”