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Kangaroo harvesting under the spotlight

By Matthew Godson
Friday, 9th September 2011

In July, the ABC’s 7.30 ran a news item on kangaroo harvesting and indicated that there was increasing disagreement within the scientific community in regard to the way Australia currently manages and views this wild resource. The report exposed Voiceless (an animal rights group) as a major contributor to the establishment of the research unit called ‘THINKK’ at the University of Technology Sydney. The group’s primary purpose is to oppose the commercial kangaroo harvest.

The establishment of THINKK within a university environment under an animal welfare/rights banner has sparked controversy. Is it simply a case of an animal rights organisation buying their way into and using the name of an Australian university in an attempt to gain credibility for its selective research?

Respected scientist and Dean of Science at the University of New South Wales Professor Mike Archer finds this association odd. He said that if a group like THINKK was based at his university, they would have to have a serious ‘think’ as to whether the group actually belongs there. He and many others question the credibility of the group’s research. Professor Archer indicated that if THINKK published and refereed its own papers and didn’t quote real experts in the field, he and his colleagues would be very uncomfortable if the group were operating at their university.

Now that THINKK’s research credibility is taking a hit from academics across the country, the group is quickly backpeddling to the bread and butter tactics used by animal rights lobby groups. It is now trying to pull at the heartstrings of the general public by making this all about the welfare of joeys. THINKK is playing the cute and cuddly card.

When THINKK was questioned about how it came up with its claim that up to one million dependent young kangaroos were inhumanely killed each year, its spokesperson’s answer reminded me of the scene in the classic Australian movie The Castle - remember that scene where Dennis Denuto told the judge “It’s just the vibe of the thing”? THINKK indicated that its numbers came from industry statistics “in the sense” of how many females are killed. Seeing that there are no actual industry figures on how many joeys are killed, I think it’s safe to say that its figures are really ‘just the vibe of the thing’!

Professor Archer acknowledged the effort made by shooters to shoot males and avoid females. The commercial shooters licence can provide protection to joeys by banning the hunting of females with dependent young. The regulated methods to despatch pouch young are very humane, although some people may find them visually unpleasant.

THINKK’s other angle of attack on the kangaroo harvest is the hygiene of the meat. The report discussed an illegal sting operation by Animal Liberation in early 2009, where the group collected samples from unlocked outback chillers, which tested positive for E-coli and salmonella. There are hundreds of different kinds of E-coli, but only some can be toxic. Of course, these tests didn’t try to establish if the kind of E-coli found was indeed a dangerous type - that wouldn’t fit well with their scare campaign, would it? Dr Rosie Cooney, one of Professor Archer’s colleagues, poured cold water over this argument by highlighting that a large study involving 200,000 kangaroo carcasses found rejection rates for contamination of kangaroo carcasses considerably less than those for sheep.

THINKK’s actions have spurred a national group of scientists into action to publish a critique on THINKK’s claims. Although THINKK has attempted to look like a credible research group, one look at the supporters on its webpage reveals that it is nothing more than a tool for animal rights groups to once again mislead the general public.