Booming kangaroo numbers spark calls for pet meat industry revival

Kangaroo numbers in Western Australia have jumped dramatically in recent years, prompting calls for an expansion of the state’s kangaroo meat industry.

State Government aerial surveys show the western grey kangaroo population doubled from 2014 to 2018, to more than 2 million animals.

Meanwhile, red kangaroo numbers quadrupled.

The booming population is causing trouble for some farmers, with the roos eating crops and destroying fences.

Kojonup sheep and grain farmer Digby Stretch said kangaroos were eliminating about five per cent of his crops.

“The lupins and the legume crops are probably the most vulnerable,” he said.

“But most of the crops the kangaroos get to will have 20 or 30 metres around the edge that will be below the cost of production in return.”

WAFarmers CEO Trevor Whittington said many farmers across the state were witnessing “an explosion” of kangaroo numbers.

“We’re certainly getting feedback that numbers of kangaroos have almost exploded out there across the Wheatbelt, and there seems to be no end in sight,” he said.

Decline of WA’s roo meat industry

In recent years, one of Australia’s largest pet food makers stopped sourcing kangaroo meat from Western Australia.

Now, there are just a handful of kangaroo meat processors and full-time shooters left in WA.

In 2018 shooters took less than eight per cent of the state’s commercial harvest quota, down from almost 50 per cent in 2014.

Head of WA’s Professional Shooters Association Ken Eatt said that had contributed to rising kangaroo numbers.

“Because of the number of shooters that have been active in recent years, the numbers have had a chance to build up a bit,” Mr Eatt said.

“There’s a very limited number who are actually shooting consistent with a full-time employment situation.”

But the state’s Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions has rejected the idea that the population increase was linked to the number of kangaroos being harvested for commercial purposes.

A spokeswoman for the department said it was more likely the spike in numbers was driven by high summer rainfall in recent years.

“Kangaroos have boom-bust dynamics and will breed in response to favourable environmental conditions,” she said.

“During periods of average-to-above rainfall and increased food availability, kangaroo numbers can increase relatively rapidly.”

Wasted roos

Amid the surge in numbers, there are calls for the kangaroo meat industry to ramp up again.

Mr Stretch, who is also the vice-president of the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA, said he was hesitant to shoot kangaroos on his property unless there were opportunities for the meat to be used.

“I had really hoped, with the red meat industry cracking up as well as it has now, that the pet meat industry might follow and come back into vogue in WA,” he said.

“There’s a great protein resource hopping around and causing us a bit of grief.

“The other alternative is that we just go and shoot some kangaroos on hand and the resource is wasted.”

Mandurah shooter Carl Grondal agrees and said there were big opportunities for Western Australia.

“There’s a lot of desperation that kangaroo numbers have gone through the roof and there’s just not enough people in the industry to take care of the numbers,” he said.

“We certainly have the potential for human consumption [and] pet food, definitely.”

Is processing viable in WA?

The Real Pet Food Company, who stopped sourcing meat from WA, said the industry had not worked out favourably in the past.

“It needs to be economically viable and that hasn’t been the case in WA,” the company’s CEO David Grant said.

“Just because of the geographic spread, the difficulty in attracting shooters to the industry, and being able to process them in enough numbers to make it viable for people to make a living.”

But Mr Grant would not rule out a return to Western Australia and said the key to kick-starting the industry there would be opening up new markets overseas.

PHOTO: The number of kangaroos in WA has jumped significantly in recent years. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)

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