By David Gray
I met Steven O’Donnell at his house in the outer suburbs of Canberra just before dusk. He had agreed to take me on what can be described as one of Australia’s most unpopular and controversial activities – kangaroo shooting.
By day Steve is a professional plumber, but by night he is a government-licensed kangaroo shooter whose job is to annually cull the kangaroo population, which is estimated at over 50 million. When we met Steve was quick to explain why the thousands of Eastern Grey Kangaroos, known locally as “roos” in the Australian Capital Territory, had to be culled. Mobs of kangaroos can quickly damage the environment and compete with livestock for scarce food, impacting the livelihood of farmers.
But Steve’s main argument that stood out most in my mind was this: “After Europeans settled in Australia some 220 years ago, they chopped down millions of trees, and created much more grassland which the kangaroos have thrived on. As a result, their numbers have increased dramatically, and so in order to keep the natural balance for the environment to be sustainable (especially during a drought), their numbers have to be reduced. So actually, it’s our fault.”
I have heard many people say kangaroos are in “plague proportions”, but precise numbers vary dramatically depending on who you ask. According to government reports however, around 5 million kangaroos are culled or killed for commercial quotas each year, a small percentage of the estimated 50 million.
Discussing all these points as we drove into the night, we entered the paddock near Murrumbateman, located on the border of the Australian Capital Territory, on the outskirts of Canberra, where hundreds of roos are known to graze. We needed to be ready, so he stopped the truck just inside the paddock gate and attached a large spotlight to a makeshift brace that he screwed onto the driver’s side door. This allowed Steve to drive and point the spotlight in search of grazing kangaroos in the dark. Safely resting in his lap was a .223 caliber rifle, its barrel pointing out the window, for fast and easy access.