Kangaroo film divides
Documentary film Kangaroo — A love-hate story has been screened around the world and its limited release in Australia coincides with a campaign against commercial harvesting.
Australia’s kangaroo industry generates more than $200 million annually and employs 2000 people.
The documentary purports to cover all sides of the debate but it has come under attack from the National Farmers Federation, academics and the Australian Kangaroo Industry Association.
Greens animal welfare spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon led a delegation to the European Parliament for a screening of the film. Accompanying her were New South Wales MP Mark Pearson (Animal Justice Party) and ecologist Dr Dror Ben-ami, who appears on the documentary.
Dr Ben-ami is one of four members of THINKK, a group funded by animal protection charity Voiceless, who appear in the documentary, which includes arguments kangaroo numbers are in rapid decline and some species could be driven close to extinction by harvesting.
This is not new: the group’s literature came under attack in a 2011 paper titled ‘THINKK again: getting the facts straight on kangaroo harvesting and conservation’, by Cooney R, Archer M, Baumber A, Ampt P, Wilson G, Smits J, Webb G. (2011).
They described an evaluation of the environmental benefits of other meats vs kangaroo meat as “neither well-reasoned or accurate” based on a review of available literature. The academics’ view was that the research made an inaccurate and potentially misleading contribution to scientific, legal and social debate on kangaroo management and raised questions about the funding of research by interest groups.
THINKK responded with: Thought again: fair criticism or a muddle-headed grandstanding?, which accused its critics of a closer than ‘arm’s length’ relationship with the kangaroo industry. The documentary is a cinematic repeat of the same process. Senator Rhiannon (who paid her own way to the EU premiere) used the occasion to attack the ‘retail’ end of the equation. “We will use the evidence to show that kangaroos are in trouble,” she said. “Myths about kangaroos are uncritically repeated as facts in Australia and abroad, which provides social and political licence to keep shooting these animals beyond their reproductive capacity.”
Activists have taken to targeting the retailers and end users of products; in the case of kangaroo, a couple of smaller supermarket chains have stopped selling them after lengthy campaigns.
A decade ago, Italian clothing giant Benetton was subjected to what it called a “gruesome campaign” linking its fashion to the practice of mulesing in Australia. Agriculture Minister David Littleproud told The Australian Senator Rhiannon’s European mission was “absolute insanity”. “It’s absolutely disgusting that she would go over there and try to destroy the kangaroo industry that has huge potential for jobs in regional Australia but also for our indigenous Australians,” he said. According to the federal Environment Department only four species of kangaroo are approved for commercial harvest and export — the red, eastern grey, western grey and common wallaroo or euro — and none of them are listed as a threatened species under national environment law, or under state or territory legislation.
No adverse long-term impacts on kangaroo populations have been identified after more than 30 years of harvesting under commercial management plans, a timeframe that includes several periods of severe drought.
The population of the harvested species in commercial harvest zones in 2016 was estimated at 47.2 million.
While the facts are being hotly debated in Australia, overseas the documentary is being critically acclaimed rather than critically assessed.
Entertainment magazine and website Variety said: “Kangaroo will be read by many viewers as eco-activist filmmaking. In the same way documentaries such as The Cove and Blackfish have altered public perceptions and official policies on marine ecology, this doc has the potential to help bring kangaroo welfare and management into much sharper focus in Australia and internationally.” The New York Times said the film “exposes a wildlife massacre”. It could just as easily have focused on the sustainable use of wildlife but it did not. Just more evidence of the culture war being waged by antihunting and animal rights extremist. As lawyer and ethics lecturer, Michael G. Sabbeth observed on the Hunters’ Leadership Forum recently over a black bear hunting ban in part of Canada: “Given that anti-hunters are driven by emotion, narcissism, ignorance and a pathological passion to feel good about oneself, we have to cultivate different strategies. As I’ve noted in other articles for this website, we will not win by merely sharing scientific data and advancing evidence-based decision making. I am compelled to conclude that the animal we really need to understand better is the human one.”