Badgers and Kangaroos: To cull or not to cull?
A planned Gloucestershire badger cull that has inflamed tensions between farmers and animal rights activists in the UK invokes parallels with the debate over kangaroo culling currently raging in Australia.
As tensions in the UK between farmers and animal rights activists escalate in the lead up to the planned culling of 100 000 badgers, debate has been revived in the Australian community over the national practice of killing kangaroos as a form of population control.
An outbreak of tuberculosis in the British badger population, particularly in the rural region of Gloucestershire, has prompted a call from farmers to shoot the animals in order to prevent the spread of the disease through their herds of cattle. It has been suggested that the strain of tuberculosis currently infecting the nation’s badgers is transmittable to cows. With 24% of farms in south-west England being affected by the disease many fear their livestock are under threat.
The Gloucestershire badger cull is a trial program set up by the National Farmers Union in response to the perceived lack of government action in combating the issue of bovine tuberculosis. Vice-President of the union, Adam Quinney, claims that farmers in the region were promised a vaccine against the disease over 20 years ago that is yet to materialise. He suggests that the badger cull is the best solution available after decades of inaction.
“We shouldn’t have got to this point. Bovine TB is hardly a new disease. We all want the same thing in the end: healthy cattle and healthy badgers,” Quinney said.
The backlash against the badger culling trial, led by former rocker Brian May, has drawn parallels with the Australian campaign against our national practice of slaughtering kangaroos in order to maintain a sustainable population and protect the interests of the Australian farming community.
Between ten and twenty per cent of the total kangaroo population is ‘harvested’ each year for commercial purposes, with over two million kangaroos regularly culled by professional shooters in order to prevent unsustainable growth. There are approximately 25 million kangaroos in Australia, which is roughly equivalent to both the cattle and human population within the country.
Opponents of Australia’s kangaroo culling industry suggest that the maintenance of a sustainable animal population is not the central motivating factor in the continuation of what they perceive as a “cruel” practice. Nikki Sutterby, President of the Australian Society for Kangaroos, claims that kangaroos do not meet the criteria for culling and that the mass killing of the animal is instead a concerted commercial exercise endorsed by government.
“This industry is not for population control, environmental protection or damage mitigation as the kangaroo industry and government industry proponents have brainwashed the public to believe,” Sutterby told Australian Times.
“Government kangaroo management managers as well as leading kangaroo scientists have admitted publicly and in court that the industry is not about population control or damage mitigation but profit.”
Kangaroo culling has been justified as an environmentally sound practice, with proponents of the action suggesting that unregulated growth of the kangaroo population at the exponential rate at which it currently stands would devastate the Australian ecosystem and negatively impact upon native wildlife as well as the interests of commercial farmers.
Former Federal Minister for the Environment Barry Cohen has been an outspoken supporter of kangaroo culling since his time in office during the Hawke Government. In 2010, Cohen wrote an editorial for The Australian in which he derided the “nonsense” claims of the anti-culling lobby and chastised the “gullible media” for disseminating their views.
“I became incensed by the hypocrisy of sections of the environment movement and the outrageous lies they told about Australia’s kangaroo management program.”
The former politician rejects claims that kangaroos are at risk of becoming an endangered species if culling continues at the rate currently allowed by the Australian government.
“Population numbers are prepared by scientists, using sophisticated methods and the latest equipment.
“The animal rights organisations, which have neither, make outrageous claims about government estimates without any evidence.”
Sutterby, on the other hand, believes that it is the government that lacks the evidence to justify the culling process.
“The proponents of kangaroo culling such as those that stand to profit from their destruction will use various myths to promote their cause, but they have not one shred of credible evidence to support their claims that it is a necessary and essential process.”
The Australian Society for Kangaroos is dedicated to stopping the practice of kangaroo culling, although Sutterby believes that the public must be told ‘the truth’ about the process before there will be sufficient pressure on governments to reverse their position on the practice.
“That is what our role is and we will continue to tell the world the truth about the magnificent kangaroo and how it is being decimated to make pet food, sports shoes and bangers and burgers.”
With the British badger cull scheduled to begin in late October, protest movements such as the Team Badger have begun teaming up with the RSPCA in a media campaign to raise awareness of the threat to the badger population posed by the government-sanctioned cull. However whether this debate is likely to reach the level of animosity experienced in the Australian debate on kangaroo culling is yet to be seen.