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Conservationists Hopping Mad Over Threat to Kangaroo : Aussies May Soon Eat National Symbol

February 05, 1989|RICHARD BILL | Associated Press

SYDNEY, Australia — Kangaroos may soon end up on dinner plates in New South Wales, Australia's most populous state. Animal welfare groups are hopping mad.

They contend that few Australians will want to feast on their national symbol but that tourists might.

Conservationists called the decision "disastrous" and potentially dangerous because kangaroos carry a host of diseases.

"Paul Hogan (the comic star of "Crocodile Dundee") is luring American tourists to Sydney, but all they are likely to see is a bloodbath," said Sue Arnold of Australians for Animals, the country's largest wildlife conservation group.

"Kangaroos are shot by helicopter, poisoned, snared and used for pet food as well as an export industry. Now they're being offered for domestic human consumption. How can they survive?" she said in an interview.

Hogan's Lure

Hogan, hailed by the tourist industry for his "throw another shrimp on the barbie" commercials that brought a record 2 million visitors to Australia's bicentennial celebrations in 1988, has a new series to be screened in the United States in February.

In the commercial, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, Hogan says that "God had a sense of humor" when he deposited in Australia "the famous giant hopping mouse"--the kangaroo.

Tourism Minister Graham Richardson said the commercials are expected to contribute to a 20% growth in tourism this year. Five million tourists are expected by the year 2000, said Bill Gray, Manager of the government-funded Tourism Australia.

Officials said a decision Jan. 6 to harvest kangaroos for human consumption will not endanger wildlife.

The News South Wales health minister, Peter Collins, said the program is for farming kangaroos, not depleting wildlife stocks. The decision reverses a longstanding ban in New South Wales, of which Sydney is the tourist gateway.

Somewhat Gamy

Kangaroo meat already is consumed in the states of South Australia and Western Australia. Its is described extremely lean, full of protein and somewhat gamy, not unlike venison.

Collins said his department would ensure that kangaroo meat is safe to eat, but Arnold and others questioned how the state government planned to farm the creatures and maintain a standard that makes them fit for consumption.

Australia's population is 16.5 million. The government's National Parks & Wildlife Service estimates the kangaroo population at about 15 million. An annual culling quota is about 3 million, with the meat used for pet food and skins turned into such goods as wallets and purses for export.

"What other country in the world slaughters its national symbol?" said Richard Jones, a member of the New South Wales Parliament who was elected in 1987 on a platform of animal welfare.

Arnold said kangaroos carry a range of diseases, such as salmonella, tuberculosis, toxoplasmosis and hydatid disease, cysts from a tapeworm that can be fatal.

Regarded as a Pest

Farmers regard the kangaroo as a pest. The Greenpeace and Animal Liberation organizations, both supporters of Australians For Animals, said the decision represents a victory for the farm lobby.

The Canberra Times, a newspaper in Australia's capital, said the kangaroo industry is in chaos.

It said there is compelling evidence of widespread illegal shooting and few controls on the transportation of skins and carcasses interstate.

Only licensed professional shooters are supposed to hunt kangaroos but conservationists and others maintain that the government regulation is loosely enforced.

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