Kangaroos bounce back
One of Australia's icons - the kangaroo - is providing South Australian rural communities with an alternative income source worth millions of dollars each year.
Far from being a pest, the kangaroo is now regarded as a valuable resource by SA graziers, according to University of Adelaide PhD student Dana Thomsen.
Ms Thomsen has spent the past five years researching the economic and social issues relating to the commercial harvesting of kangaroos in South Australia for meat and skin markets.
Her key findings, recently published in a Federal Government report, reveal that commercial kangaroo harvesting provides significant economic, social and ecological benefits to South Australia's rangeland communities.
"Commercial harvesting of kangaroos, originally used as a form of pest control to reduce the pressure on grazing lands, is now a significant industry that directly employs around 4000 people and contributes up to $230 million a year to the Australian economy. South Australia shares in those benefits," Ms Thomsen said.
But the economic gains could be much greater for the State's rural sector, which is constricted by a rigid quota system.
"In South Australia, the quotas have been allocated at the property level rather than on a regional basis. This has resulted in a very inflexible system because kangaroo populations on each property fluctuate, especially after rain. Kangaroos need to be harvested where they are in large numbers, otherwise it's too inefficient."
Despite South Australia recording the highest acceptance of kangaroo meat in the country, its harvest figures are the lowest of any State. From 1997 to 2004, South Australia harvested just 43% of its average quota and imported 211,000 carcasses from interstate to meet local demand.
"If we are to effectively manage the industry we need to have a far more flexible system in South Australia. While demand for kangaroo products has previously limited the industry, efforts to develop markets have been successful and we can't supply enough," Ms Thomsen said.
Kangaroo meat and skins are now exported to 60 countries, and the market is growing. Kangaroo leather and pelts are highly sought after in Europe for clothing, shoes and accessories, while kangaroo meat is lauded for its low-fat, high-protein health benefits.
Ms Thomsen said the commercial kangaroo industry is considered by natural resource scientists as one of the few rural industry practices that provides economic return with minimal environmental impact.
But Aboriginal people need to be consulted more widely in kangaroo management, she said.
"Kangaroos are culturally significant to Aboriginal people and it's important we include them in the decision-making process. Part of my research involves promoting a better understanding between non-indigenous industry stakeholders and Aboriginal people so we can market the industry as not only clean and green, but also socially just."
Ms Thomsen's research in commercial kangaroo harvesting has won several awards, including a national Young Researcher Prize in 2004 and runner-up for the Best Conference Paper at the 2006 Australasian Farm Business Management Network Conference.
As a result of Ms Thomsen's findings, the South Australian Government is now developing proposals for a more flexible system for managing kangaroos in order to meet market demand and ensure that harvests are sustainable.
Ms Thomsen is supervised by Dr Jocelyn Davies from CSIRO and Dr Ian Nuberg from the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at the University of Adelaide's Roseworthy Campus. Her research has been funded by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and Land & Water Australia.
Story by Candy Gibson