The Inhumane Killing of Adult Kangaroos

Kangaroo with jaw blown off

The following is an extract from The welfare ethics of the commercial killing of free-ranging kangaroos: an evaluation of the benefits and costs of the industry by D Ben-Ami, K Boom, L Boronyak, C Townend, D Ramp, D Croft and M Bekoff, 2014. The Code refers to the National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Commercial Purposes.

Inhumane killing of adult kangaroos

The Code states that shooters must aim for the brain (with the intent of achieving a humane kill). To support the Code, carcases with body shots are not accepted by processors, creating a disincentive for shooters to bring in kangaroos that are not shot in the brain. Moreover, heads are removed in the field, leaving no trace of shots penetrating the neck area (which is also partially removed) and the head. Nonetheless, in an examination of carcases at meat processing plants, RSPCA Australia found that the overall proportion of head-shot kangaroos (determined by examination of carcases that had heads removed, as described below) that were processed was 95.9% (RSPCA Australia 2002), meaning that the remaining 4% (or approximately 120,000 of the three million ten-year average) were shot in the neck or body and not as required by the Code.

Another study by Animal Liberation NSW, of carcases in 25 chillers between 2005 and 2008, identified that up to 40% of kangaroos per chiller may have been neck shot (Ben-Ami 2009). The apparently large difference in the RSPCA Australia and Animal Liberation NSW estimates is due to differences in sampling methodology. Animal Liberation NSW sampling was based on whether the head was severed at or below the atlantal-occipital joint (Ben-Ami 2009), which is where the skull connects to the neck and therefore the most efficient severing technique is at this joint where the tissue is soft. Anywhere else in the neck area the knife will encounter stiff resistance from the neck bones. RSPCA sampling was based on bullet entry points in carcases. The argument here is that a shooter would be unlikely to engage in this difficult cut unless it was necessary to conceal a neck wound.

Both the RSPCA Australia and Animal Liberation NSW estimates were compromised by the fact that the samples were taken of carcases, without the heads, brought to chillers or meat processors, rather than in the field at the time of shooting. The true number of kangaroos killed without a shot to the brain or neck area and left in the field (because they will not be accepted by processors) is unknown. Therefore, the combination of the available information from the organisations and carcase-handling practices of shooters suggests that 4% or 120,000 adult kangaroos (of the average three million adult kangaroos that are killed annually; Table 2) is a conservative estimate

Injury to adult kangaroos

The welfare of an injured wild animal will be poor if there is an injury and worse if there is also suffering. The animal welfare impacts of any control method depend on the capacity of the species to suffer, the duration and intensity of pain, distress or suffering, and the number of animals affected (Kirkwood et al 1994; Littin & Mellor 2005). An injury will cause pain, which impacts the welfare of the animal in the immediate term and may either heal or lead to death. A conservative estimate of the number of animals known to die following shooting injury to the neck is provided above, and a further unspecified number of animals are left in the field to either heal or die from an injury.

The injury may continue to cause direct pain (even if healed) or may lead to impaired motor functioning of limbs and particularly the jaw (because the head is targeted). Animals may also have multiple sensory functions that when impaired can cause suffering (Gregory 2004). For instance, damage to brain or other organs involved in vision, hearing, smell or other sensory processing could be expected to impair their ability to respond to their environment and to interact socially.

The pursuit of kangaroos prior to shooting, where this occurs, may also cause problems for kangaroos that are shot and survive or for others in the group. This has been shown for other animals subject to hunting (eg red deer [Cervus elaphus]; Bradshaw & Bateson 2000). In particular, kangaroos are highly susceptible to capture myopathy, a condition leading to pain and distress and which may lead to eventual death within days or weeks (Shepherd et al 1988). Survivors may suffer longterm impairment resulting in reduced fitness and reproductive success (Cole et al 1994). There is no work on the fate of injured kangaroos, or the wider impacts of the methods used for commercial killing. Therefore, a rigorous field-based study at the point of kill to assess shooting practices and the outcome for kangaroos is essential.

Animal welfare implications

The purpose of the Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies is to:
ensure all persons intending to shoot free-living kangaroos or wallabies… undertake the shooting so that the animal is killed in a way that minimises pain and suffering (Section 1.1).

It does not override state or territory animal welfare legislation but seeks to provide technical specifications and procedures, including procedures for the euthanising of injured kangaroos, pouch young and young-at-foot (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities [DSEWPaC] 2012). As such, it is the key regulatory instrument for the killing of kangaroos that relates to animal welfare (Boom & Ben-Ami 2011).

Our analysis suggests that some provisions in the Code relating to best practice by shooters are not met. First, it is unlikely that young-at-foot are killed when their mothers are shot (see above) as required by the Code (Table 1).

Second, there is a strong concern about the fate of mis-shot adults. As noted above, existing evidence from RSPCA Australia and Animal Liberation NSW suggests that many kangaroos are not shot in the brain per the desired welfare standard in the Code (Table 1), and it is impossible to know how many mis-shot kangaroos are left in the field.

The mandated methods for pouch young euthanasia have also been questioned, as discussed above, and there is no requirement for training in the Code — for either the killing of adults, or euthanasia of pouch young.