Kangaroos: Droughts, Predators and Politics

A kangaroo on a beach.
A mob of kangaroos on Kangaroo Island, South Australia.
A small waterhole in the dry Australian inland regions.
Female kangaroo feeding her joey.
Kangaroo steak with pomegranate and green pesto.
An orphaned joey sitting in a bag, which is used as a replacement for the joey’s original pouch.
An adult kangaroo and a joey hopping over dry earth.

The lack of large predators in Australia means that kangaroos can hop about relatively carefree. Nevertheless, there do exist threats to kangaroos’ lives. Smaller predators, such as dingoes, don’t mind preying on joeys or weak adults, and severe droughts, which lead to a shortage of grass to eat, sometimes cause starvation. With that said, merely moderate dry-spells usually don’t take a heavy toll on kangaroos. This is because kangaroos have evolved and adjusted to life in Australia, the driest continent on earth, over millions of years.

Yearly culls

Due to the relatively favorable living conditions, kangaroos Down Under exist in the tens of millions. This fact has led the Australian government to allow over a million of them to be hunted every year. A yearly cull is needed, the government says, to keep kangaroos from overgrazing grass and drink waterholes dry. The same policy, authorities continue, creates more room for the many remaining kangaroos, as well as for other wild animals and grazing livestock. Another advantage to the cull — at least from a meat eater’s perspective — is that hunting ‘roos makes lean kangaroo meat available in supermarkets for any consumer to buy.

Arguments against hunting

For all of the perceived benefits of hunting kangaroos, there are also arguments against culling them. Two of these arguments are that people should not interfere with existing eco-systems and that kangaroos must not be made to suffer the pain of dying from hunters’ bullets. Even so, recognizing that hunting has strong support, opponents of the practice looking to compromise sometimes limit their opposition to the cull to the argument that hunters should at least spare female kangaroos, since joeys cannot live without their mothers.

To try to alleviate the situation for the young ‘roos that now, in fact, lose their mothers every year as a result of the cull, kangaroo rescue centers around Australia regularly take in orphaned kangaroos. Here, the ‘roos are then nursed until they are old enough to be released back into the wild as adults.