Wildlife rescuers and advocates are "mortified" about a proposal for a new kangaroo processing facility which would encourage more kangaroos being killed across Victoria, including in Ballarat.
News that Campaspe Meat Company had submitted a permit application to Loddon Shire Council began circulating several weeks ago. Subject to planning approvals, the 'Licensed Wild Game Pet Meat Processing Facility' would be set up at the former Loddon Valley Abattoir on Tarnagulla Road in Inglewood.
The application kangaroo carcasses would be skinned and boned there, with packaging to take place at another site.
To result in employment for up to 10 staff and 10 harvesters, the facility would process between 1000 and 2000 kangaroos each week.
In an article in the Loddon Herald, Director Loc Rivett said the kangaroos would be sourced from "across Victoria and also New South Wales and South Australia".
But despite touting environmental benefits, several community campaigns have been started against the proposal.
People opposing the facility believe it will encourage further slaughter of Australia's national icon and contribute to a population decline.
It comes as the Victorian government continues its Kangaroo Harvesting Program, which allows professional shooters to kill eastern and western grey kangaroos on private land, with the landowner's permission. The carcasses are taken to processing facilities for use as meat or other products.
Kangaroo 'control' can also be carried out through Victoria's Authority to Control Wildlife (ATCW) system, with landholders able to apply to the Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning (DELWP) for authorisation to shoot kangaroos, which they usually carry out themselves.
Since the commencement of the KHP program in October 2019, landholders have also been able to engage a harvester to control kangaroos for them.
Almost 100,000 kangaroos can be harvested across seven KHP harvesting zones this year, but with a 2020 government survey estimating there are more than 1.9 million kangaroos in Victoria, the government has set a quota that a 'total take' of 191,200 kangaroos can be killed across Victoria this year - equivalent to about 10 per cent of the population - inclusive of ACTW permits.
The quotas include a total take of almost 66,000 kangaroos in the Ballarat, Hepburn and Moorabool region, 42,800 kangaroos across the Grampians and Ararat and 23,700 in the Otway area, which includes Golden Plains.
The government says the KHP prevents an overabundance of kangaroos which could cause crop and property damage, threaten people's safety and lead to wildlife welfare issues such as starvation.
There are currently just over 100 harvesters who are able to apply for a quota allocation in any of the zones.
The program was based on a four-year Kangaroo Pet Food Trial, set up to reduce the number of rotting kangaroo carcasses in the bush as a result of the ATCW system. But a review report identified a number of issues.
It found some shooters had been driven by profit to kill more kangaroos, with some suspected of providing incentives, including cash, to property owners to access kangaroos on their land.
Landholders were also found to have provided false information to the government, claiming damage or larger numbers of kangaroos on their property than the reality.
It also found shooters were not monitored or regulated properly as shooting largely takes place at night and that non-compliance had been rampant, with the trial including compliance issues ranging from administrative issues to major offences under the Wildlife Act.
It also stated that the program cost the taxpayer more than any financial return.
Harvesting sparks anger
East Trentham Wildlife Shelter's Helen Round said she was "mortified" by the proposal.
Ms Round and her partner Manfred Zabinskas spend an average of $40,000 each year rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife, including kangaroos.
She said it was volunteers who attended wildlife rescues, cared for sick and injured animals and euthanised them when required.
"All wildlife rehabilitation and rescue is performed by volunteers, not the government.
"I work seven days a week. I put in eight to 10 hour days to save a handful of lives as the government allows shooting them.
"They expect us to keep doing this job unpaid, taking up all our resources - emotionally, financially, physically - and then they set up an industry that just systematically destroys everything we do. It's soul destroying."
All wildlife rehabilitation and rescue is performed by volunteers, not the government. They expect us to keep doing this job unpaid, taking up all our resources - emotionally, financially, physically - and then they set up an industry that just systematically destroys everything we do. It's soul destroyingHelen Round
She described kangaroos as sentient and intelligent animals.
Several weeks ago, an inquiry into the wellbeing of kangaroos in NSW heard that 13.2 million kangaroos had been killed commercially since 2000, as well as an estimated 3.76 million young kangaroos after their mothers had been shot.
It is a shocking figure, especially when considered with the fact that Australia has the highest rate of mammalian extinction in the world.
The inquiry also heard an estimated 40 per cent of kangaroos are mis-shot. This is usually because of factors such as poor visibility, as hunting frequently takes place at night, and because kangaroos are meant to be shot in the head, presenting a small target.
Ms Round said thousands of kangaroos escaped but with excruciating injuries, only to die an "horrific" and prolonged death in the bush, as a result of a bullet lodged in their neck or jaw.
She has tended to kangaroos suffering these injuries herself and described it as "horrible" and "traumatic" to be faced with a horrifically injured and helpless animal.
"They look at you with terror. You're the biggest betrayer and biggest benefactor at the same time. It's truly traumatic and wildlife rescuers are put through that every day. It's just absolutely criminal."
Shooters are advised to bludgeon unfurred joeys in the pouch, known as 'pinkies', to death.
The inquiry also heard that in three studies during the last 40 years, 99 per cent of shooters were found not to have checked for a second teat or at foot joey.
A separate study into the outcomes of at-foot joeys revealed those whose mothers were shot suffered severe mental and physical stress, with the inquiry told that as they were unable to survive without their mother that they would die of either dehydration, starvation, exposure or predation.
"Kangaroo shooting is not clean, it's not sustainable or ethical. It's opportunism," Ms Round said.
"It's a cruel, vicious and exploitative massacre. And for the Victorian Government to get behind an industry like this it just destroys your hope for the planet."
While these practices create more work for already stressed carers, an emotional Ms Round said she "kept going" because there would be a day when kangaroo numbers would be really low and knowledge for how to treat and care for them would be required.
Impact on communities
Peter Hylands has long travelled the country to make films. One of his more recent areas of interest includes documenting the impact of kangaroo harvesting in areas across Australia.
The president of the Australian Wildlife Protection Council (AWPC) slammed the proposed processing plant, saying it would destroy the region's liveability, peace and amenity and wipe out native kangaroo populations.
The sound of gun fire in the distance could be especially damaging in a part of regional Victoria abundant with retreats, b&bs and spas.
"Where this industry operates in other parts of Victoria, residents live in constant fear of hearing the sound of high-powered rifles in the middle of the night close to their homes and wake the next morning to discover the remains of mis-shot kangaroos and orphaned joeys of dead mothers," he said.
Where this industry operates in other parts of Victoria, residents live in constant fear of hearing the sound of high-powered rifles in the middle of the night close to their homes and wake the next morning to discover the remains of mis-shot kangaroos and orphaned joeys of dead mothers,Peter Hylands
"We have testimonials from residents and business owners in towns where commercial kangaroo killing operates saying their lives and livelihoods have been shattered as a result of the brutal slaughter of these animals".
Ms Round said the psychological trauma of dealing with sick and injured animals was "massive", but that it extended to dealing with people traumatised by shooting around their properties.
"People contact us all the time because shooting is happening around their houses, because their neighbours have got permits. The little mobs that they enjoyed having on the block of land - they've watched the joeys, they know the mums and recognise individual members of each mob - have been or are going to be shot by their neighbours.
"I have to explain to people that there's nothing we can do. They have no rights.
"The fact they love those animals and moved here to be near animals and to have that little piece of nature to protect and preserve and enjoy can be destroyed by some bogan with a gun who will sell these beautiful animals off as dog meat. It's profiteering and their rights overrule the rights of the people who love them and whose land they live on."
Such scenes have played out in harvesting zones across Victoria including in Dunkeld, in the Grampians region, even through the black summer fires.
Ballarat resident Bryn Hills stated a number of concerns about the ongoing slaughter of kangaroos - from economic, tourism and amenity perspectives.
But he really worries the financial incentive to kill kangaroos will lead more shooters to head to areas where they can kill the most. This is particularly worrying for the Ballarat area, which has one of the biggest quotas.
"There's kangaroos around here so there will be shooters around here, there is no mistake about that."
Pushing kangaroos to extinction?
Mr Hylands said that contrary to the industry's claims, kangaroos do not exist in vast numbers and that to process thousands of kangaroos each week would mean every kangaroo in the Loddon region would be killed in a matter of months, with other designated harvest areas to be impacted too.
"If this facility is allowed to proceed, Central Victoria will end up the same as regions in NSW and S.A where the kangaroo pet food industry has all but wiped-out local populations of native kangaroos".
The Victorian count of kangaroos in October 2020 stated kangaroo populations had increased by 40 per cent since 2018.
But Ms Round questioned this. Over a two year period, she said it was twice the maximum biological rate of breeding as in the best conditions kangaroos can only increase their populations by 10 per cent.
Kangaroos breed at a slower rate than other species such as koalas, and have a 73 per cent juvenile mortality rate.
"Yet the government was claiming 20 per cent per year and that was while parts of Victoria were in drought and the Black Summer bushfires happened," she said.
Ms Round said we were facing a sixth mass extinction event and that we were on track to experience three to four degrees warming.
Studies also reveal that 96 per cent of the earth's mammalian biomass is made up of humans and livestock.
"We are a country of extinctions and we have absolutely no insight into our behaviour. Every single species we have wiped out was once considered abundant and safe. And we are doing it again.
"We need to rewild as quickly as possible, so why are we systemically wiping out a keystone species?
Opposed to the harvesting program, Ms Round said kangaroos were predictable animals that used the same paths and gates that kept livestock in and allowed the movement of wildlife were cheap and easy to install. She added kangaroos tip fed on native grasses to increase the productivity of paddocks.
A report by a Sydney research group previously found kangaroos rarely competed with livestock for food unless in cases of drought. Other studies have found a single sheep consumes as much as five kangaroos, while it is estimated that one cow can eat as much as 60 kangaroos.
"Kangaroos aren't just one animal, they're a keystone species. They're responsible for the distribution of seeds of native grasses and their claws make holes in the ground which allow seeds and moisture to accumulate for germination to occur, they are propagators, they tip feed off grasses to improve the quality. After they propagate grasses. They work in harmony with the environment. You know, instead of wiping them out we should be following their example."
Ms Round said there were minimum harvesting standards in other states but there was not in Victoria, adding to worries about how the program will affect the species.
Mr Hylands said it was not a sustainable business, and the handful of jobs proposed would be short lived.
"All that will result is the cruel slaughter of native animals for the short-term financial gain of a handful of people."
Better economic solutions
Opposers believe the "systemically cruel industry" will not only undermine liveability, businesses and tourism in regional Victoria, but that there is an alternative.
Mr Hylands said there were far greater and more sustainable economic benefits from using wildlife to promote tourism.
Studies show Australia's unique wildlife is a major nature-based tourist attraction.
"In 2019, 16.9 million visitors to and within Victoria engaged in at least one nature-based activity, an increase of 82 per cent from the previous five years.
"In 2017 tourism in regional Victoria was worth $7.5B to the economy and created employment for 85,600 people. If we are serious about job creation and regional economic benefit, we should be protecting kangaroos, not killing them."
A spokesperson for Loddon Shire Council said the application was in the process of being assessed by Council officers.
"Following the completion of the assessment process, the application will proceed to a future meeting of Council for its consideration".
This week, western Victoria MP Andy Meddick brought up the issue in Parliament and called on the minister for agriculture, Mary-Anne Thomas, to intervene.
He told The Courier kangaroo slaughter was "cruel and unsustainable" and the proposal for another processing facility put kangaroos at risk of extinction, while also putting communities at risk.
"Shooting will take place all over the state, including Ballarat and surrounding areas, with carcasses then transported to the facility. It impacts local tourism and scares many from travelling to the area.
"This is not only incredibly cruel and terrible exploitation of our native icon which are totems to many indigenous Australians - but will pose health risks to the community and increase the risk of zoonotic disease."
Ms Thomas was contacted for comment but her office said the matter was one for the council.
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