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Kangaroo population declines in NSW by 4 million, 'largely attributed' to drought

By Mollie Gorman, Sunday February 14, 2021 - 20:58 EDT

Another devastating impact of the drought in regional New South Wales has been revealed, with the state's kangaroo population thought to have plummeted by more than a quarter.

The annual survey estimated there were 10.5 million animals in 2020, compared to 14 million in 2019 ? a decrease of 25.5 per cent.

The estimated loss of 4 million animals came only four years after a record peak of about 17 million red and grey kangaroos and wallaroos was recorded in 2016.

Stuart Cairns, adjunct lecturer at the University of New England, called the decline "quite severe".

"In Western NSW I think the numbers dropped by about 45 per cent initially," he said.

"At a site I use west of Broken Hill, numbers dropped from about 53 per square kilometre in 2016 to about four per square kilometre last year."

But he said the decline was "no worse" than after similarly tough periods in the early 1980s and 2000s.

"They probably went down a little more precipitously this time than they did in the Millennium drought," Dr Cairns said.

A spokesman for the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE), which conducted the annual aerial survey, said the decline could "largely be attributed" to the impact of the drought.

Starving joeys euthanised by rescuers

The collapse in numbers was observed first-hand by Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) volunteer Christie Jarrett.

Her branch of the rescue charity in the Central West saved more than 750 joeys in 2020.

"Some of them were very poor and underweight, and would be euthanised pretty much straight away," Ms Jarrett said.

"Joeys ... would come in off dying mums and they would be raised and hopefully be released down the track."

She said the dry conditions had led to more animals and birds being pushed out of their natural range, and being hit by cars, but as rainfall patterns had normalised and the La Niña weather event had taken effect, less were coming in.

"We're getting a lot less roadkill calls," Ms Jarrett said.

"We're probably looking at about half of what we were during the worst of the drought, which is just fantastic.

"The bad thing is it also indicates that maybe there are less animals left to be struck by cars and things like that too."

Calls to reduce population to protect environment, farms

Most of the state is now in drought recovery.

A record-breaking winter harvest was stripped last year, and livestock prices have been reaching highs never seen before.

At Mitchell Clapham's property at Ilford, near Mudgee, sheep are being yarded ready for shearing and the country is blooming with pastures ? native and introduced.

But only months ago, the landscape looked very different as he hand-fed livestock to keep them alive.

Mr Clapham said that was a task made additionally challenging by kangaroos.

"[During the drought] they didn't come in and intermingle with the stock, but they're competing with the stock all the time for what little groundcover you've got left," he said.

A member of the NSW Farmers' Conservation and Resource Management Committee, Mr Clapham believed there were still "substantially too many roos on the landscape".

He said the population should and could be sustainably reduced further to protect feed for livestock and biodiversity.

"We're not anti-kangaroo, but what people need to understand [is] since the inception of European farming systems in this country, we've upset the balance and we've upset the balance in the favour of kangaroos," Mr Clapham said.

"We've put in a lot more watering points, and cropping, and pasture improvement, and that's all been to the benefit of kangaroos."

Bounceback likely

The DPIE spokesman said the numbers were expected to increase, as indicated by historic climate and population data.

Dr Cairns said he was not concerned about the three species becoming endangered.

"Following the end of this drought, if we get a succession of good seasons, we'll see kangaroo numbers increase fairly rapidly," he said.

"Without a doubt ? I don't mind a bet ? I'd quite happily bet on that."


© ABC 2021

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