I’d hoped the kangaroos would get a break this year, after the bushfires and severe drought. I imagined that a lot of kangaroos in the ACT had already died. However, the ACT government decided to belatedly hold the cull, sparing only Tidbinbilla and Namadgi because of the recent bush fires there. The cull started this week.
The number to be culled is based on what each reserve area should be able to support. This year, that number is 1,958, more than 50 percent lower than last year. Ironically, the lower number is due to COVID-19 social distancing measures. Keeping staff and contractors safe during the limited time that female kangaroos are less likely to have joeys in their pouches (up to 31 July) means that fewer kangaroos can be taken this year. Unlike some of the other Australian states, ACT does not cull kangaroos for commercial purposes, like for human consumption or pet food.
When food and water is scarce, kangaroos venture down from the reserves into the neighborhoods, inevitably colliding with cars. Canberra has been named the top city for animal collisions for the third year in a row with 670 (96 percent) of the 698 collisions involving kangaroos. As a pedestrian, I’ve witnessed a kangaroo hit by a car, struggling on the street to rise, only to be put down when help arrived. And yet, the culls drive them down into the neighborhoods as well.
The ACT Government website notes they are researching and using fertility controls, including an infertility injection that lasts for 10 years. The website says the government hopes to move to nonlethal methods like these. However, an ACT Parks and Conservation ranger told me last season—as she arrived to conceal a blood stain on the trail a hunter had left behind the night before—that sterilization methods are so prohibitively expensive that culling will still be needed.
There is some dispute about how humane the deaths are. Hunters are licensed, and there’s a Code of Practice for non-commercial shooting that must be followed to make sure the kangaroo’s death is “sudden and humane.” Guidelines describe the type of weapons and ammunition to be used, and how the shot must be taken. The timing of the cull should minimize the chance of females having joeys in the pouch, and hunters are supposed to avoid killing them. However, if a female is killed, and there are young in the pouch, the Code requires they be killed as well by “a single forceful blow to the base of the skull.” While the RSPCA claims that non-commercial shooters aren’t required to pass a test, the ACT Government states they must pass “a challenging marksmanship accuracy test” as well as a test on the “National Code of Practice and a macropod identification test.”
So all this I know in my head. My heart is not that objective. I’ve seen mothers caring for their joeys and juveniles playing together, zipping around after a rain and bounding right up to me. I’ve seen a large male kangaroo at dawn during the cull, fleeing the reserve for my neighborhood in an absolute panic, kicking up a spray of dirt with each frantic hop.
In the end, who am I to decide what's best? All I know is that I’m uncomfortable and still haven’t come to terms with a yearly cull.