Roo burger, anyone?

I just got home from an interesting panel put on by the ASC. Here’s my write-up…

First up was Mike Archer, palaeontologist and Dean of UNSW’s Faculty of Science.

According to Professor Archer, we need 1.5 million square kilometres of land to be set aside for conservation if we want to ensure the healthy evolution of species. Since it’s hardly practical to kick people off that much land to create national parks, instead we need to convince them that it’s worth their while.

There have been interviews with farmers about the drought; in the background are dead cows… and bouncy kangaroos. Being native, they’re adapted to this habitat. Most farmers see kangaroos as competition for their cattle, so they have no interest in preserving them or their habitat (which houses many other species). Bribing these graziers won’t help the situation, it’s not reliable as it’s too easy to cheat that kind of system. There needs to be something inherent about that habitat itself that makes farmers want to look after it.

There are 200 million years of evolutionary distance between humans and kangaroos, which means that we don’t have many diseases in common. The only disease we can catch from kangaroos is toxoplasmosis, which we’re more likely to catch from cats, and which kills marsupials.

Basically, it’s all about sustainable use; just one way of practically conserving the environment.

The next speaker was John Kelly, spokesman for the Kangaroo Industry Association and an exporter of kangaroo meat.

According to Kelly, kangaroo has been the red meat of choice for 40 000 years; there’s just been a 100-year hiccup in its popularity. There are many advantages to eating roo meat. It’s low in “bad” fats and contains some “good” fats, has a wild, gamey taste, and good environmental credentials.

Sustainable kangaroo harvesting can prevent then from becoming over-populated and therefore over-grazing an area. For the past 30 years, kangaroo harvesting has been carefuly monitored and no negative effects on ecology have been observed. The RSPCA and the Australia Veterinary Association agree that an animal killed instantly in its own habitat is under much less stress than an animal that’s penned, starved, and then taken to place that smells of death to die. Roo harvesting also provides jobs and revenue to remote rural communities.

Next up was Ron Hacker, Chair of the Department of Agriculture.

He said that kangaroo populations have increase significantly since while settlement, especially in sheep farming areas, because of increased water supplies and removal of dingos.

Commercial harvesting doesn’t always help sustainable farming: it ceases to be commercially viable before reaching population levels that are found in drought conditions. This makes it a renewable resource that should be managed to suit everyone.

Then there were questions

What cuts sell the best?
The same as for beef, it is used for steaks and manufacturing, works well for salamis (but needs fat added). The tails are used in Korea, where it’s believed that one can acquire qualities from eating certain foods. The tail is believed to give the kangaroo its stamina.

What about conservation of the species?
There are seven main species of macropod. Of theses, the Western grey, the Eastern grey, the red and the wallaroo are abundant. It’s all about supply and demand: people don’t have the tradition to eat roo, but there’s also limited supply because of limited quotas of what can be harvested.

What’s to guarantee that kangaroo hunting won’t go the way that fishing and whaling has?
There is much less known about marine ecology compared to kangaroo ecology. We know a lot about them: their numbers are estimated annually, so the sustainable level of hunting them can be determined much more easily.

Many of the opponents of kangaroo harvesting (eg VIVA and PETA) have an agenda about all animals and don’t want any animals to be eaten or kept as pets. They’re moving towards being terrorist groups. They feed the idea that all wildlife is endangered, so we shouldn’t interact with it.

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I’m not sure what I think of all this. I won’t eat roo meat regardless, as it’s not kosher. But I’d like to have a position. I suppose that I support them in theory, at least, but I’d like to know how likely hunters are to shoot a rare macropod species by mistake, and who’s really done this research. Because if it’s someone with a vested interest, it’s definitely fishy. And some of the things they said contradicted other statements: they said that they would be over-supplying if they harvested enough to bring populations down to drought levels, but also that the quotas limit their supply. So, the jury’s still out.

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