Kangaroo killing code draws flak from animal groups
By Rob Taylor
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian animal protection groups questioned on Monday a new government guide for the humane killing of kangaroos which recommends "forcefully swinging" the heads of young animals against a vehicle tow bar.
A proposed code of conduct for shooting young kangaroos, called joeys, and smaller wallabies released by the Department of Environment also recommended a single close-range shotgun blast.
"These changes are basically saying the federal government believes it's okay to blast a defenseless joey to bits with a shotgun," Pat O'Brien, President of the Wildlife Protection Association, told local newspapers.
Kangaroos are one of Australia's national symbols and feature on the country's coat-of-arms. But they are also hunted for their meat and in some areas are at plague proportions amid drought.
Military chiefs in Canberra recently gave the go-ahead for a euthanasia program to control kangaroo numbers on bases in the national capital to avoid a mass starvation of the animals.
The draft national code aims to guide people on humane disposal of orphaned joeys, which live in their mothers' pouches, after the parent has either been shot or hit by a vehicle. The code rejected sending orphaned joeys to wildlife careers.
"I think we all love kangaroos. The problem is that there are too many. What we are talking about here is responsible environmental management, because if we don't do something you won't have pastures and viable farming," an Environment Department spokesman said.
"We are trying to come up with something that is practicable to use across sometimes remote parts of the country."
Both national animal protection body the RSPCA and the Wildlife Protection Association, founded by late "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, urged the government to impose a ban on shotgun use in the draft.
Former lawmaker and conservationist Richard Jones said the code could backfire on the government in its campaign against Japanese Antarctic whaling, despite the fact kangaroos are not internationally protected like whales.
"We can hardly take the high moral ground on animal welfare and whale conservation when the government is prepared to condone barbaric practices regarding our native wildlife," Jones told the Canberra Times newspaper.
The Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia defended current methods for killing joeys including a blow to the head with a metal pipe or striking the animal against a tow bar.
"Animal welfare is precisely what this code of practice is all about," said executive officer John Kelly.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)