Threatened kangaroos set to get first-class treatment

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The Independent Online

Kangaroos that have overrun two military bases in Canberra may be transported in air-conditioned comfort to more congenial surroundings, at A$3,600 (£1,500) a head - more than a return air fare to London.

The idea is being considered by the Australian Defence Department, which provoked outrage earlier this year when it announced that it was planning to cull thousands of eastern grey kangaroos. The animals had converged on the bases on the outskirts of the capital city, in search of food during the prolonged drought. Their over-grazing was causing serious erosion.

The cull was abandoned after the outcry and a threat by protesters to surround the kangaroos and save them from the bullets of sharp-shooters. The military then commissioned a local wildlife group, Wildcare, to come up with an alternative solution.

The new plan, leaked to the Canberra Times, proposes sterilising thousands of the creatures, possibly using drug-laced food bait. Hundreds of others would be herded into a padded pen, sedated with Valium and shot with a paintball gun to mark them as ready to travel. They would then be released into a fenced and shaded area to await their transport.

The animals would be trucked in air-conditioned vans to Braidwood, a small town about an hour's drive from Canberra. There would be more food available for them there.

The drought, only partly eased by recent winter rains, has sent kangaroos and other animals into towns and cities for food. They have been grazing in parks, and even on school sports fields, kept green with regular watering.

Canberra, a purpose-built capital in bushland, is said to contain the densest populations of kangaroos, with 450 of them per square mile. More than 1,000 are killed each year in traffic accidents that cause more than $6m worth of damage.

On the military bases, the Defence Department claims the animals have caused erosion at sites, including a firing range. They are also said to be endangering a species of local lizard, as well as the threatened gold sun moth.

While foreigners are enchanted by kangaroos, Australians have a schizophrenic attitude towards them. They appear on the national coat of arms alongside with the emu, and on the tail of Qantas aircraft, as a symbol of Australia. But farmers regard them as a pest, because they eat crops, compete with cattle and sheep for grazing land, and knock down fences.

Farmers are given licences to shoot them, although the job often goes to professionals. Most of the meat ends up in pet food. Australians, though, are increasingly eating the lean red meat themselves.

The abandonment of the cull was criticised by some scientists and wildlife groups, who said that many of the kangaroos were starving and should be destroyed.

A Defence Department spokeswoman said yesterday that a final decision had not yet been made.

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