Kangaroos: Friends or Food?

Bonarong Wildlife Sanctuary January, 2020

If I say “Australia”, what do you think of?

Beaches? Koalas? Accents? Wildfires? Giant spiders? 

How about, “kangaroos?”

Here are some fun quick facts courtesy of PBS:

  • A group of kangaroos is called a mob, and they usually live in mobs of up to 50 members (mobsters, perhaps?)
  • They rang from 3-8ft in height and 40-300 lbs in weight
  • A male kangaroo can hop at speeds up to 40 mph
  • They can’t walk backwards
  • They are able to swim
  • They have great hearing
  • There are four common species of Kangaroo: red kangaroo, the eastern gray kangaroo, the western gray kangaroo, and the antilopine kangaroo.

Kangaroos are also a tasty protein that make great steaks and flavorful sausages.

Kanga Bangas

In Australia, Kangaroos outnumber people 2 to 1 with a whopping population of 50 million. While they are a cute and an iconic symbol for Australia, many locals see them as pests that eat up the crops, overgraze the land, and cause traffic accidents. With the absence of predators, namely dingos and aborigines, the Australian government has hunting quotas in place to manage the population. The culling (shooting) quota is set year to year, but it is usually around 15% of the population, even though the actual number shot is closer to 5% (you can check out the numbers HERE.) The culled animals are then used for leather products and meat, which are internally used as well as internationally exported.

Fun Fact: Belgium is the number #1 importer of kangaroo products, and the country consumed 632 tonnes (180,000 roos) in 2016 alone.

Animal welfare groups argue that the data is wrong, and that the mass killing of the roos is an unwarranted act of animal cruelty. The pro-culling side takes the stance that the quotas are an economic necessity to help farmers and prevent overgrazing of the land.

Which side is right?

The Pros of Eating Kangaroo:

  1. It Significantly Reduces Car Accidents

While my home state, Virginia, has “DEER X-ING” warning signs everywhere, you’ll see “KANGAROO X-ING” signs throughout Australia. Kangaroos are responsible for 80% of all animal related road accidents, totaling in at roughly 16,000 a year. This hurts the animals and is costly for drivers and insurance companies. In 2006 alone, the cost of these collisions added up to $15.4 M AUD on top of increased insurance rates.

2. Nutritional Content

Kangaroo is a lean source of protein, and 200g contains 42g of protein and just 2.6g of fat (compared to beef which has 40g of protein and 9.2g of fat). It also contains omega-3’s, iron, vitamin b-12, niacin, riboflavin and thiamin, making it a good source of nutrition. Click HERE for all the nutritional facts.

(I can also vouch for the fact that it tastes good! It is a gamey meat that is more tender than venison, and the flavor is like like a stronger, sweeter, less-fatty steak of beef.)

3. It’s a Humane Way to Eat Meat

Killing an animal in the wild is much more humane than most commercial factory farms. The death is quick and painless, and the animal did not spend its entire life behind a fence or in a cage.  

Fun fact: A contestant on Love Island (a reality TV show similar to Bachelor in Paradise) asserted he used to be a “kangatarian“, meaning he ate a plant based diet with the addition of kangaroo. (After some digging, however, this isn’t a common diet trend here Down Under….)

4. It’s Environmentally Sustainable

Kangaroo meat is more sustainable than traditional animal farming. Not only do the marsupials live in the wild, but they eat less than other grazers and live off natural shrubs rather than mass produced feed which requires amble resources to produce. Kangaroos also emit far less methane than cows and sheep given the bacteria that lie in their gastrointestinal system.

5.It Is Essential for Farmers

KIAA (Kangaroo Industries Association of Australia) states that kangaroos incur $90M AUD a year of costs on farmers due to them eating the crops, overgrazing the land, and damaging fences. If the culling quota was met, farmers estimate that wool yields would increase by 25% and crop yields would increase anywhere from 8-17%.

6. It Creates Jobs and Is Good for the Economy

The Kangaroo Industry employs 4,000 people and was worth $174M AUD in 2014 alone. Exporters ship meat and leather products to over 60 overseas markets and it is internally used for consumption as well as for dog food. In fact, 14,000 kangaroos were harvested in 2019 for dog food alone, as it is a good source of  nutrition for your furry friend.

The Cons of Eating Kangaroo:

  1. The Killing Standards Aren’t Monitored Enough, Resulting in Animal Abuse
Look closely, you’ll see the joey’s back legs peaking out!

By law, hunters are required to shoot the kangaroos in the head for a quick, painless death. However, this standard is hard to meet (I can’t fathom shooting a bounding marsupial perfectly in the head) and often kangaroos will be shot in the body and escape to a painful death.

Hunters are also supposed to target male kangaroos, but this isn’t always the case. A Joey relies on it’s mother as long as 18 months (varies based on species), meaning that a shot female is likely caring for an offspring who will be left to die. Leaving the baby to die is animal cruelty and it also means the number of kangaroo casualties is higher than the data suggests.

Click HERE, HERE, and HERE for the details (warning, you’ll see some sad pictures!)

2. There’s No Statistical Evidence that the Quota Actually Helps the Environment

We live in a time were data speaks, and there is simply no hard evidence to suggest kangaroos take a toll on the environment or that they compete with livestock for food. If anything, they help keep grass short and fertilize the land.

3. It’s Not an Efficient Way to Replace Other Forms of Meat

The idea that shifting away from sheep and towards kangaroo meat to reduce methane and greenhouse gasses is misguided. In the 2010 study, Advocating Kangaroo Meat: Toward Ecological Benefit or Plunder?, the researchers show that replacing sheep with kangaroo is simply unobtainable. Giving every Australian a portion of kangaroo meat a week would require 22 million harvested kangaroos a year. This would mean there would need to be a kangaroo population of 151 million for it to be sustainable

4. The Costs Incurred on Farmers Are Lower Than Stated

While the government states $200 M AUD in cost incurred on farmers due to kangaroos, THINKK (The Kangaroo Think Tank) argues that this number is highly inflated, and that the real costs are closer to $44 M AUD.

5. It’s Not as Healthy as They Say

Kangaoo meat can carry dangerous pathogens including toxoplasma gondii and salmonella as well as parasites that lead to serious health risks. In digging for the statistics, I found an absurd variance in numbers from unreliable sources with shoddy methods.

THIS report from the Parliament of Victoria gave some numbers I trust (note that the studies can not be directly compared, as the methods were different):

  • From a survey in Queensland from 2003-2006, there was salmonella in .84%  (7/836) of the kangaroo carcasses (7/836), E. Coli in 13.9% (116/836), and aerobic bacteria in 68.7% (574/836)
  • A smaller 1991 study found salmonella in 11% (9/81) carcasses and E. Coli in 49% (40/81)
  • A 2002 study in South Australia found salmonella in 31% ( 11/35) of the steaks and 49% of the minced meat (17/35)
  • A sample from South Australian processing plants from 2002 and 2004 found salmonella on 1% of carcasses (4/385)
  • There have been no confirmed cases of toxoplasmosis in humans.

So, should we eat Kangaroo?

I noticed a theme in the data:

there is no theme.

 In order to draw statistically significant conclusions across the country, each state with a culling quota needs to use the same methods of collecting data on things such as how many females vs males are shot, the exact monetary damage to farms, the real cost of roadside accidents, etc.  Without a standard data approach that is used each year, it’s simply impossible to draw reliable conclusions.

Not to mention, the majority of the research is dated, and using evidence from a 2002 study is no longer relevant.

This is why each side is able to quantify their stances with statistics. If I’ve learned anything from my statistics classes and data analytic gigs, it’s that not only  can you make the numbers say anything, but you are ENCOURAGED to transform the data to tell the story your employer wants to hear.  In perusing the various studies, it is painstakingly clear that the research is backed by agenda, not proper scientific method.

I suspect each side knows the data is riddled with errors, which is why they play  to emotion. 

As I was focusing on the anti-culling side, I was smacked with heart wrenching photos of dead joeys and bleeding carcasses that lit the “we need to stop this atrocity now!” fire as I wanted to buy a “Save the Kangaroos!” tshirt.

As I was focusing on the pro-culling side, I scrolled through countless stories of impoverished farmers with broken fences and destroyed crops that had me ready to look into getting my shooting license.

Here are meaningful takeaways that I think we can deductively conclude:

  • Kangaroos do cause damage to farms, although the quantifiable value can only be determined on a farm to farm basis.
  • Kangaroos do cause significant number of traffic accidents each year (roughly 80% of all animal related accidents), although data that a culling quota reduces this number is not available.
  • While kangaroo meat is better for the environment in terms of less methane production and resource consumption when compared to cows and sheep, it’s unreasonable to think they can fully replace commercial livestock.
  • Kangaroo meat is a great source of protein, but, as with all wild game animals (or any food for that matter), there is a risk of disease.
  • Some kangaroos are not shot properly in the head, and often defenseless Joeys will be unintended casualties when a female is shot. Enforcing stricter regulations and perhaps a more rigorous process for obtaining a license would help mitigate this.

Do I eat Kangaroo?

If I am comfortable consuming animal products, I need to be comfortable consuming kangaroo.  The animal rights violations associated with factory farmed meat far exceeds those of kangaroo culling, and it would be hypocritical of me to bash roo eaters while I’m preaching from my soap box with a chicken taco in one hand and a double cheeseburger in the other.

“Different” is never bad, and I will never say no to a unique cultural eat. Check out The 4 Strangest Things I Have Ever Eaten and A Call to Shutdown Misinformation, Not Wet Markets for more of my thoughts on the topic.

I won’t say no to a grilled up Kanga Banga, would you?

Comment below or shoot us an email at contact.frugal.foodies@gmail.com with your thoughts!

Before you buy your kangaroo meat, be sure to click HERE for a guide on where to find sustainable producers.

One Comment Add yours

  1. lol K-ROO yes ive seen those before! Roo meat done well can be excellent. And its actually recommended by dietitian as – and u pointed out – it’s not very fatty. Lamb for example is usually fattier than beef.

    and i know the damage done in the top end to farms is pretty severe. And if you hit a grey kangaroo on a highway, well, often the roo bounces away but the driver needs a new car!

    Like

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