FROM the original 60 plus species of kangaroos in Australia, 29 are now threatened and 11 species are extinct.
“You take one animal out of the ecosystem and you are altering that system, and we continue to do this,” said biologist Dr Nadine Richings.
“Kangaroos exist only in Australia; they will not exist anywhere if we continue to kill, vilify and exploit them.”
Western grey and eastern grey kangaroos are shot in Victoria under an authority to control wildlife issued by the Victorian Government Kangaroo Harvest Program (KHP).
The KHP allows authorised harvesters to shoot them, in what the government terms, a “sustainable manner”.
Alpha male kangaroos are the main target for shooters.
Kangaroos, or macropods, are a highly social species who live in large groups known as mobs.
The elimination of the alpha male leaves the mob vulnerable, without leadership and threatens the existence of the species.
“We are changing the gene pool of kangaroos because all the larger males are shot and it leaves the smaller males as the only one’s breeding,” said Dr Richings.
At Red Box Wildlife Shelter in central Victoria, owner and wildlife carer, Nikki Medwell, doesn’t see many alpha male kangaroos pass through their property from the forest.
Of the occasional alpha males sighted, Ms Medwell said they are disoriented by everything.
“They don’t have their own mobs because they have been slaughtered, and [yet] they have made it to freedom somehow,” she said.
At the sanctuary, Ms Medwell introduces orphaned joeys to nature and readies them to join one of the mobs who frequent her property.
The one thing she is unable to teach them, is to be an alpha male.
Mr Boo, the first orphaned joey in Ms Medwell’s care was found standing next to his dead mother’s body.
Weighing less than 2 kilograms, if left he would have died from the elements or killed by a predator.
Now a young buck (male) and the face of Red Box Wildlife Shelters Mr Boo Roo Ranger program, he leads a small mob of hand raised ‘roos in the forest attached to the sanctuary.
But he is not an alpha male.
“The shooters take out all these beautiful big boys,” Ms Medwell said.
“Alpha males are born, they don’t get created, they don’t get pushed up through the ranks, they are born as alpha males and they get taken out, “Ms Medwell said.
“[Mr Boo] is a magnificent boy, but he is not a big, muscular alpha male.
“He wasn’t born one, he has been thrust into a role that he was not genetically designed for.”
Without an alpha male Ms Medwell said the genetically weaker juvenile males run rampant on young juvenile females.
As head of the mob, an alpha kangaroo leads and protects the females, and maintains the genetic line.
Ms Medwell has witnessed the incredibly strong bond in the mobs.
“After thunderstorms we see these big males rounding up half a dozen tiny tots and keeping them all in one spot waiting for the mums to find them,” she said.
A year after the 2019-20 bushfires that impacted kangaroo populations, the Victorian Government has increased the quota for kangaroos killed for commercial purposes under the Kangaroo Harvesting Program by 65 per cent, from 37,780 to 95,680.
Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said this was due to an almost 40 per cent increase in the estimated number of kangaroos across the state compared to 2018.
Cull quotas are based on an aerial count of kangaroos combined with environment and behavioural data.
Dr Richings said,” kangaroos are counted in Victoria and NSW,”
“The mathematical modelling is sound, but it is whether the people who are counting are doing it appropriately,” she said.
In NSW there is currently a parliamentary inquiry on the health and wellbeing of kangaroos and other macropods, because commercial shooting of kangaroos has decimated the species.
When the Victorian government released the Kangaroo Harvest Program proposal, Ms Medwell, with her on the ground knowledge of kangaroos and mobs, went through it with a fine-tooth comb.
“I submitted 72 questions and all I got was a stock standard letter response, that did not answer any of them,” she said.
“They weren’t looking for feedback, it was only a box ticking exercise.”
Fossil records show the current form of the kangaroo has been identified back to 3 million years ago.