I just returned from a wonderful trip to beautiful New South Wales, spending a good deal of time around Sydney and it's environs. My visit was sponsored by Voiceless, an incredible group of dedicated people working to protect all sorts of nonhuman animal beings from being wantonly abused by human animal beings. As I was flying home I constantly thought about the horror stories I'd heard from a wide variety of people about the horrific ways in which Australia's national icon, the kangaroo, is treated. I kept asking myself, not only as a biologist but as a human being, how could anyone treat a kangaroo in the way they're treated or passively allow it to happen, and how could this iconic animal be subjected to such disregard and disrespect that truly is a poor reflection of this country. As it turns out, there's limited scientific or environmental evidence that supports the killing of kangaroos
and this slaughter has been called a sham. For more details about the unnecessary killing of kangaroos see this report by an organization called Thinkk.
It's been estimated that about 4 million kangaroos are killed annually, often in horrific and reprehensibly inhumane ways, many of which result in much pain and suffering before the individual dies. And, as if this isn't enough,millions of additional animals die as 'collateral damage', including joeys, other youngsters, and individuals who depend on adults for care. I was astonished and dismayed (and embarrassed to be a human being) when I learned that joeys even could legally be intentionally clubbed to death. It's likely that when indirect deaths and non-commercial and illegal kills are taken into account along with road kills, which vastly increases the true scale of the slaughter, the figure could be doubled. Even if these numbers were halved, the number of unnecessary deaths is still unacceptable. Six species apparently have gone extinct.
Kangaroo meat and hides are used for shoes, other clothing, dog food, and as unneeded meals for humans, unneeded because no one has to eat a kangaroo. I do want to honor tradition so I want to be clear that I'm directing these comments to people who have innumerable alternative sources for clothing and food. Some people kill kangaroos because they work for industries that use kangaroos for a variety of purposes and some kill them for fun, intentionally running them over. I find it strange that some conservation organizations including the Ecological Society of Australia, the Australasian Wildlife Management Society, and the Australian Mammal Society support what they call kangaroo 'harvesting', which really amounts to sanctioned slaughter.
As a longtime student of animal behavior, including their emotional and moral lives, I'm very interested in the mistreatment of animals who have a point of view about what happens to them (see also). Kangaroos are sentient mammals who care about what happens to themselves and their families and friends. They don't like being harmed just as you and I don't like being harmed. Think about your dog who also is a sentient being. Would you subject your dog to the same treatment to which you yourself subject kangaroos or allow them to be exposed? I doubt it and I hope not. Kangaroos don't suffer less than dogs or other animals.
As a scientist, it is my responsibility to express my views in support of, or in opposition to, situations such as kangaroo killing. One of my colleagues in Australia said he and others were chided for not being objective, because they're told that science and scientists are supposed to refrain from advocacy. I find this idea to be singularly simplistic and it doesn't reflect reality. Science isn't and cannot be an objective enterprise. Scientists are first and foremost humans all of whom have a point of view. So, scientists who allow the slaughter of kangaroos (or other animals) to occur, in their passivity to such rampant abuse, are not being detached or objective. Indeed, by their lack of action they are taking a stance in support of the kangaroo industry. They too are advocates and their accusations are vacuous double-talk meant to put kangaroo advocates on the defensive and take them away from the important work they need to do. This tactic is one that is often used to get people to waste their time battling their opponents rather than doing what needs to be done. Consider also the above named organizations that openly sanction kangaroo killing.
All in all, I hope that the wanton and widespread slaughter of kangaroos rapidly diminishes and that people who oppose it, including politicians, scientists, and non-professionals, speak their mind. One easy way to begin to reduce the slaughter is simply to stop eating kangaroos and not to buy products that are composed of kangaroo parts. People can easily vote with their pocketbooks and this has been an extremely effective means of severely reducing the consumption of meat from severely mistreated veal cows for example.
Kangaroos deserve better and each of us holds the key to making their lives better and stopping the unnecessary slaughter of these amazing beings. Write to government officials in Australia and in your own country. Russia has banned kangaroo products based on health grounds and there currently is a petition for the European Union to do the same. You can also contact Voiceless, spread the word about the reprehensible slaughter, and stop buying products made from kangaroos today.
Let's make this the century of compassion and expand our compassion footprint. Unlike our carbon footprint, our compassion footprint is something we need to make bigger. If we try to bring forth our innate compassion with every being we meet, we will always be making progress and expanding our compassion footprint. I'm an optimist and a dreamer and I do think that the future can be a much better one for animals, nonhuman and human. We must set an example for future generations, our children and theirs. But we must so something now. We must remember that we are not the only important species on our precious planet. It's not only about us. We're not the only show in town. Time isn't on our side and surely the kangaroos will be grateful for our efforts. We are their voices and we must be heard. We suffer the indignities to which we subject other animals and if it ever comes to the time when we ask "Where have all the animals gone?", we will miss them more than they will miss us.