Urban Kangaroos, Urban Deer, and Finding a Balance

Last night I watched a fascinating episode of the PBS show Nature.  It was titled “Kangaroo Mob.”  Apparently that’s what groups of them are actually called—not herds, mobs.  The episode told of how frustrated Australians are trying to cope with exploding kangaroo populations in and around Canberra.  Only a decade ago, there were a few hundred.  Today there are tens of thousands.

Out beyond the city limits, drought and skyrocketing kangaroo populations have caused ecological devastation and left the landscape denuded of vegetation.  As hungry, thirsty kangaroos invade the suburbs, the citizens of Canberra are coping with hundreds of car crashes, increasing damage to landscaping and natural vegetation, and incredible hordes of kangaroos that are just generally making a nuisance of themselves.  In several recent incidents, they’ve attacked people and pets with no apparent provocation.  As sometimes happens with deer here in America, a few confused ‘roos have even crashed through windows and into suburban homes. 

Local officials have reluctantly decided to stage a cull.  Although most Canberrans support it as a necessary step, a few have donned kangaroo masks and staged angry protests.  Two wildlife biologists we follow during the program are tracking radio-collared kangaroos in the hopes of learning more about their habits and movement patterns.  Meanwhile, we also meet a couple who are working hard to rescue kangaroos that have been injured or orphaned.

Elsewhere, not far from Canberra, overabundant kangaroos have sometimes outmatched the land’s carrying capacity and starved in large numbers.  In one notable 2009 example, the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) chastised the Defence Department for not holding a cull on a nearby military base.  After mowing the base’s threatened grassland preserves and leaving the ground pretty much bare, an estimated 5,000 kangaroos starved that summer.

For me, the Kangaroo Mob story was especially fascinating because of its obvious parallels with overabundant urban and suburban deer here in North America.  In Deerland, I plan to include an entire chapter on the topic.  Its working title: “The Invasion of the Suburban Cervids.”  In some ways, deer in Connecticut aren’t all that different from kangaroos in Canberra.

Australia actually has deer problems of its own; it has six different types of deer, all of which are non-native invasives.  In addition to kangaroos and deer, Australian hunters can also pursue feral cattle, goats, and camels.  Which is probably a good thing, since most of these animals have at various times and places reached outrageous population levels that caused serious problems for both humans and the natural environment. 

The camels are quite large; I suppose if a hunter were to shoot one in rugged terrain that could only be reached on foot, it would be a lot of work to hump it out.  Sorry.  Couldn’t help myself.  Actually, though, feral camels are no joke.  Australia currently has over a million, and that number could double by the end of the decade.  In large parts of the country, they’re now causing serious environmental damage. 

Australians have learned to take their invasive species seriously.  The rabbit is probably the one animal that has caused the most damage there.  Today the ownership of live rabbits is regulated in most of the country, and Queensland recently raised its fine for the possession of a single pet rabbit from $3,750 to $30,000.

Meanwhile, back here in North America…  Deer are not, strictly speaking, an invasive species.  They were here first.  But they sure can be invasive.  As I research Deerland, I’ve been talking with experts and learning a lot about the lethal and nonlethal control strategies being used when deer invade our cities and suburbs.  I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.  The solutions aren’t simple, and implementing them isn’t always easy.  But sometimes doing nothing is not a option, and sometimes letting nature take its course is no kindness. 

Or, as one ecologist recently told me, “Just because you’re not shooting them doesn’t mean you’re not killing them.”  Suffering.  Compassion.  Kangaroos.  Deer.  Birds.  Trees.  Sedges.  Ferns.  Humans.  It’s complicated.

© 2012 Al Cambronne

Author: alcambronne

Retired photographer, author, and cancer survivor living in northwest Wisconsin.

9 thoughts on “Urban Kangaroos, Urban Deer, and Finding a Balance”

  1. Spot on, Al ! There are definitely places where we as humans are “guests” or don’t dominate the landscape, as in wilderness and roadless areas. These areas that are great for hunting and the experience and I wish there were more of them. I’ve been on two of those hunts. But the idea of nature letting “run its course” is unworkable pretty much most of the time.

    1. I have to agree. Letting undisturbed nature run its course is one thing. But once we’ve already disturbed it and disrupted that balance, then maybe we should be responsible for trying to restore it.

  2. Great post, Al! I think there’s also nice parallels with the snow goose (over)population in the Central Flyway. Though not an invasive species, the snows are devastating the tundra, and desperately need to be culled. We’re seeing substantial growth in the population in our flyway too, though as Hank wrote yesterday, they can be very difficult to kill.

    1. Good point NorCal … Canada geese in the upper-midwest, midwest and east are the mounting (depositing) problem we see since snows are more of an ‘exotic’ here. As you already know.

      Anytime we humans upset the apple-cart of natural balance there is a mess of apple-sauce that’s ends up souring and getting all sticky, before we get’round’ta cleaning it up. Next thing you know there’s mold, destruction and before you know it -the specter is looking you in the reflection of the sickle!

      But seriously – even though behind the humor that WAS quite a serious comment – we have Pogo’d ourselves into some seriously tight corners. And the problem is – most of those in need of help are too cowardly to do what really needs to be done. The largest of which is CHANGE! Most feared 6-letter word in the English language. Time for all of us to meet the challenge and Grow-Up. The term that doesn’t allow ANYONE out of the responsibility target. “. )

    2. Another interesting example. I vaguely remembered reading about that somewhere, and then just did a quick Google. (You’re a bad influence. I’m very curious about the world, and also very easily distracted.) Read a couple articles, and saw some images showing a very changed shoreline. If you Google for “snow geese damage tundra,” it’s the first one that comes up. An interesting parallel is that some images showed exclosures, which are also often used by botanists studying the effects of overabundant deer on the forest ecosystem.

  3. Very well written and oh-so-timely, Al! I watched the PBS Mobs of Canberra as well. Very interesting. Since I deal with a number of native Aussie’s and Tasi’s – and have for several years, I’ve been aware of their Roo problem; it’s big. And though Canberra is the most densely populated urban area, the roos are expanding across their range; and that’s for nearly all members of the roo and wallaby species. Shooting of roos and walla’s is a really hot topic that often breaks out in serious human-on-human violence.

    You’re spot on with the analogy of the white-tailed deer in North America; specifically US urban areas. And close behind deer are the other critters that have adapted to urbanization so well … squirrel, chipmunk, starling, sparrow, rat, feral cat and coyote .. to mention a few.

    Back to Australia. The roo is the bigger item on the list of indigenous problems; you addressed most of the big invader problems; but there are a couple of other ‘critters of note’ that Aussie’s deal with we should be very glad we DON’T have to. Two that stand out are the Brown Snake ( a member of the taipan family- highly venoumous) and the Brown Spider (a nasty mix of black widow, recluse and tarantula: big, nasty, aggressive and very poisonous). These are frequent visitors in the bush or in the urban areas. The slither and crawl into home and shoes alike. One must be on their guard. Give me a tick any day! “. )

    And then there’s the Cane Toad …. Oh my the wonders of natural insurrection never cease !

    Great piece. Look forward to reading your book. If you’re looking for reviewers … let me know. I’d be most willing and know several others who do so professionally. ‘. )

    – ofieldstream

    1. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the comparisons, and sounds like you were already familiar with this story. Yes, glad there are few poisonous insects or reptiles in my neighborhood. And I’ll surely be in touch once my book is out. Still have a ways to go before it hits the street, but probably sometime in the spring of 2013. Stay tuned…

  4. Hi chaps – stumbled across this post – I am a Canberran! and yes – we have wild roos living in our suburbs. for the most part it is in harmony. Canberra is small and sparsely populated. Large tracts of open land between satellites centres of suburbs, and completely surrounded by open bush land. Kangaroos have always lived within the nature reserves and farm land that exists within suburbia. There is a mob living but 10 mins walk from my house, and I have had the “walking down the street” experience too.
    The Dept of Defence story is true – although from 2007 – and that was mis-management on behalf of the land managers. People were pretty angry though at the mass cull.
    Canberra has lots of nasty things. We have the nasty snakes – last year my vet closed his lawn for dog training cause a snake moved in. heaps of nasty spiders – not sure what is a “brown spider” though – you have those in USA but not here. In all my life never heard of it. Our big three spiders are funnel webs, red backs and white tails. I’ve been bitten by a red back and discovered that I am not in the 10% who are allergic. So a bit stingy but nothing happened. funnel webs are up in Sydney, and Canberra gets white tails too.
    I did have a scorpion in the family room a couple of weeks ago – which stunned us all. But our scorpions are small and again not dangerous.
    So there you have it – a report live from the ground! Canberra and Kangaroos live in peace!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Fun to hear from a genuine Canberran. The first time I read your post I was momentarily confused about the spider situation. Our most common species of deer is whitetail deer, and I’m pretty sure I’d rather have whitetail deer rather than white tail spiders.

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