If I were a kangaroo,
I’d leave for you a clue or two,
For you to find me roaming free,
Happy as a roo can be.
This enormously creative piece of poetry came to me as we were driving around Southern Australia for hours looking for kangaroos. Roo droppings, flattened grass, even carcasses of kangaroos hit by cars were strong indications that they were close, but it wasn’t until hours of searching had passed that we finally spotted them among the eucalyptus trees.
Given my paragraph above, you may be forgiven to think that kangaroos are rare. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, roos are considered a pest in Australia. There are two kangaroos for every human in Aussieland. Perhaps my inability to find roos could be explained by the same kind of blindness that overcomes me when I look for butter in the fridge.
Anyway, the Australians are greatly conflicted about their roo dilemma. On the one hand this beloved animal is Australia’s national emblem, depicted on the country’s coat of arms and currency, adorning Australia’s largest air planes and giving identity to countless sports teams. On the other hand many scientists, farmers and citizens who find kangaroos in their backyards more often than not, believe that 49 million roos are enough and culling is needed to reduce the population to sustainable levels. While arguing that population levels are surging because all natural predators are extinct and that roos have become a threat to the country’s eco systems, kangaroo culling quotas are announced every year by the state governments.
Environmentalists question the wisdom of the cull. They claim that the roos’ population explosion is temporary and weather related. They argue that kangaroos are keeping the grass short, reduce the fire hazard and fertilize the nutrient-poor soils.
Killed kangaroos are not wasted. Their hides are used for leather and the meat is used for dog food and/or exported as a delicacy for human consumption to many parts of the world. In fact, Australians are urged to eat more kangaroo meat. The meat, nutritionists point out, is very tasty, organic, full of iron, free of antibiotics and pesticides and very lean. But feeding off the enormous kangaroo population results in more than just good health: it reduces the number roos through the Australian bush causing damage and it helps to curb greenhouse gases by reducing reliance on beef. Cattle, which was introduced by European settlers, releases tons of methane into the atmosphere while kangaroos do not.
Aboriginal Australians have been eating kangaroo meat for thousands of years, but when you suggest that white Australians do the same, there is strong resistance. I don’t understand: eating a national emblem may be un-patriotic and un-Australian but it has never been this tasty. Perhaps singing the national anthem while chucking roo steaks on the barbie will make their consumption a bit more palatable.