Australia: Tie Me Kangaroo, Down

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Decorating the Commonwealth's Coat of Arms and the tails of Qantas jetliners, the kangaroo has every right to be called Australia's national emblem, though many Australians sometimes wish they had never heard of the beast. Anywhere from 6,000,000 to 16 million kangaroos roam the Australian plains, alternately drinking up the outback water supply and eating the best pasture grass. For these reasons alone, the nation's sheep herders and cattle ranchers not long ago decided the kangaroo had to go, and at last count their vendetta was producing 15,000 to 20,000 kangaroo carcasses a week, a high enough slaughter to prompt one New South Wales Labor Party leader to forecast the disappearance of kangaroos from Australia "the same way bisons disappeared from America."

Though kangaroo hunting dates back years in Australia, it is only recently that it has become more a war than a sport. Some Australians have been so worried by the slaughter that several states ruled that kangaroo hunters must be licensed, but this resulted in the buying up of licenses by wealthy landowners who turned right around and hired sharpshooters to get the job done. One estimate now places the registered kangaroo shooters in Queensland alone at close to 1,800, most of whom hire themselves out to ranchers, and a good hunter can earn up to $70 a day. To these gunslingers, the "sport" is more than mere extermination. One U.S. clothing manufacturer placed an order for $140,000 worth of kangaroo skins to make ski clothes; the animal's meat is sold as a delicacy in Japan, can be found as pet food in Sydney shops at 23¢ a can. Some consider this a waste. "In kangaroos," says Basil J. Marlow, curator of mammals at the Australian museum in Sydney, "you have a valuable source of protein. Instead of being shoved into bloody dogs and cats, it could be more profitably shoved into humans. Kangaroo meat is quite tasty when properly butchered."