Could NMIT provide a model of kangaroo conservation management and sustainable harvesting? Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE (NMIT) is in financial trouble and needs to innovate and focus on it's educational strengths. I outline one modest innovative proposal which utilises the expertise from several academic and vocational disciplines and could contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions for climate mitigation through conservation management, while utilising our unique Australian food resources for a more healthy lifestyle.
Some animal welfare activists and conservationists have criticised the measure, and queried the ethical necessity for animal culls, even raising that this may impinge on the income of traditional beef and sheep farming.(Barber 2014) Over recent decades animal welfare and prevention of cruelty to animals have become important public debates. Standards for ethical treatment of animals - both wild and domesticated - have increased due to this debate, as exemplified in the public sentiment expressed over the live animal export trade.
Australia's variable climate and environment
Kangaroos and climate change
"We need to scale back livestock production, but whilst the demand for meat is there, this will be difficult, so demand for meat needs to be tackled at the same time. Most people are unwilling to give up meat altogether, but demand would be reduced if people ate less, which would also yield significant health benefits.
"Most people are simply not aware of the link between food and climate, so we need to raise public awareness that the foods we choose to put on our plates have consequences for climate change."
Graph: Average carbon equivalent footprint of protein-rich solid foods per kilogram of product. Source: Ripple et al (2014)
Graph: Comparison of annual methane production from different sectors, and global ruminant numbers. Source: Ripple et al (2014)
"Methane from the foregut of cattle and sheep constitutes 11% of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Kangaroos, on the other hand, are nonruminant forestomach fermenters that produce negligible amounts of methane."(Wilson and Edwards 2009)
“We believe it is likely that the kangaroos' adaptations to Australia's erratic, variable climate, and recurring droughts will bring a range of biodiversity and conservation benefits. Monitoring the effects on biodiversity would be an essential part of such a transition and would indicate the extent of the side benefits of the change.”
"If you are serious about cutting methane emissions, it means giving up cows' milk and giving up cow meat. What are the alternatives? Kangaroo is a good alternative, but the problem is these animals tend to jump," said Tol in a Guardian report.
Kangaroo harvesting and animal welfare debate
“What we have is a situation not unlike the climate change deniers, where we have clear scientific evidence that suggests that a course of action should be taken and for whatever reason there’s a small group of people that just refuse to accept it. We’re talking about ideology with this group," he said. "As a land manager we have to act not on ideology but on what the best science is telling us.”
What role for an educational organisation?
There was concern at the time that eastern grey kangaroo over-population was causing damage to the property. NMIT commissioned wildlife management group Ecoplan to do an independent assessment which recommended a cull of 300 kangaroos each year for three years. A wildlife control permit was issued. The subsequent licensing of professional shooters was met by protests and opposition from some local residents, Whittlesea Council and the Australian Society for Kangaroos.
"The trials seek to bring kangaroo production onto landholder’s balance sheets as contributing enterprises. After 3 years, progress is being made but continuing research support is needed, particularly to advise and monitor the establishment of cooperatives and marketing, economic, ecological, and social issues. An expansion of the SWE trials to include low-emission meat production as modeled here would require a larger investment, including a need to monitor kangaroo population size and performance, regional harvesting quotas, and to measure the effects on biodiversity of maintaining high densities in the face of density-dependent feedback that could occur through responses to rainfall, predation, reductions in livestock, or all of the above. It would also be prudent to remeasure greenhouse gas emissions from kangaroos under a range of diets."
It could be an opportunity to explore changing community behaviour in reducing the quantity of meat consumption, and changing from meats with high embedded carbon involved in producing traditional beef and lamb, to more lean and healthy meat from kangaroo.
This article was originally written in March 2014 with the intention of being published on the Talking about NMIT blog which I contribute to. A few slight changes have been made in this version.
NMIT is a multi-campus TAFE college in Melbourne's northern suburbs delivering a wide range of vocational education and training courses and several applied higher education bachelor degree programs including in agriculture and land management, aquaculture and equine studies.
The changes to TAFE fees and reduction in State government funding since 2009 have caused student enrolments to slowly decline affecting it's ongoing financial stability. In the latest annual report for 2013 it reported a $30 million deficit (See report in The Age). The Institute is currently in the process of business introspection and restructuring which will mean significant changes including possible staff and course reductions. Innovation and working to the Institute's areas of strength will be important for NMIT to move forward.
The original article was forwarded to a number of senior people at NMIT, but no comment was forthcoming, whether they were too busy dealing with the process of restructure presently underway or that this was too difficult a subject is anyone's guess.
This article argues that sustainable kangaroo harvesting at NMIT's Northern Lodge property at Eden Park could provide an innovative opportunity across several key academic departments and disciplines. Implementing this idea may not be straightforward and would meet with protests from animal rights activists, but it would demonstrate leadership on tackling the complex intertwined issues of climate change, conservation, agriculture and food. An educational institution is exactly where this should be undertaken in Victoria where adequate expert supervision and control is available either in-house or through business and academic links.
Sadly, the issue of kangaroo harvesting is probably too hot a topic for NMIT to deal with at this point in time, while the challenge of adapting to climate change and heatwaves in Melbourne continues to grow.
Note: Updated 15 June 2014: Graphs from Ripple et al (2014) added.
Note: All photos by John Englart (CC By-SA 2.0)