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To Save Australia’s Ecosystem, Ecologists Say Eat Kangaroos

With a soaring population, the iconic marsupials are overwhelming other species and may soon run out of food

Kangaroo herds dominate Australians ecosystem today, outcompeting other organisms (Alex Proimos / Flickr)
smithsonian.com

Australia is suffering from an overabundance of its most iconic animal, the kangaroo. Now officials are requesting people to use their stomachs to help control the rapidly growing populations.

Kangaroo populations have sharply increased, from some 27 million in 2010 to around 45 million in 2016, reports BBC News. This explosion came after a decade of wet conditions throughout much of Australia, which has allowed vegetation to flourish. And with abundant food comes abundant herbivorous marsupials. To make matters worse, humans have caused the extinction of several of the kangaroo's natural predators, such as the thylacinea marsupial resembling a dog.

Now, with nearly twice as many kangaroos as people in Australia, the situation has hit a critical point; the creatures are wreaking havoc on the Australia's ecosystem, reports Tom Fedorowytsch for ABC News.

Ecology experiments in fenced-off plots of land have shown the dramatic difference that kangaroo overgrazing can have. The creatures can rapidly wipe out native plants, depriving birds and other animals of food and habitat. By denuding the landscape of grasses that can anchor down earth, the kangaroos are also causing significant erosion in places that have struggled to preserve their soils from the encroaching desert, reports news.com.au.

Now, officials are turning to the Australian people to control the problem, reports Fedorowytsch. Many Australian states have implemented quotas and regulations for humane culling of the animals, but there is little demand for the practice. Kangaroos are revered as a national symbol, including being featured on the country's coat of arms. With little demand for their meat outside of curious tourists, reports BBC News, hunters rarely track down the animals, much less kill the quantity necessary to meet the quotas.

However, ecologists argue that letting the kangaroo population continue at unsustainable levels could be even more inhumane than culling them, reports news.com.au, since millions of the marsupials will likely die during the next drought. The last major drought in the mid-2000s reduced the kangaroo population to just seven million.

Proponents of kangaroo hunting also note the benefits of kangaroo meat compared to more traditional beef or other livestock, reports BBC News, noting that it's low in fat and that kangaroos produce much less methane than farm animals.

Australia is no stranger to the perils of animal overpopulation. One menace is cane toads, a North American poisonous amphibian introduced to Australia in the 1930s by farmers as pest control for sugar cane crops. The populations have grown out of control and is now an infamous example of the perils of invasive species—even inspiring a 1988 cult classic documentary still shown to many biology students.

Similarly, rabbits have had a devastating impact on the environment. Introduced in 1859 for hunters to chase down, the fuzzy critters have been proliferating and munching on Australia's greens ever since. Scientists have even erected a massive fence across large sections of Australia to protect crops and grasslands from the voracious animals. But in recent years an accidentally released virus has reduced numbers. Even wild cats, another species brought by humans, have been blamed for driving several Australian small bird and mammal species to extinction.

Kangaroos are certainly not an invasive species let loose on an unprepared foreign landscape. These adored hopping creatures are a mainstay in Australia. But for the sake of other creatures and well being of the kangaroo population, locals might want to consider eating a bit more roo.

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