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Eating Wildlife
A Gourmet Recipe For Extinction

Red Roo & Joey

Geoff Russell is a long time member of Animal Liberation in South Australia. His article was Published in 'Australian Science', August 1999.

It comes as a shock to many of us to realise that our hard hooved domesticated livestock are really very unsuited to Australian conditions. Especially those of us brought up to believe that Australia 'rode on the sheep's back'. It is perhaps understandable that some people react by suggesting we switch to eating wildlife. Museum luminaries Tim Flannery and Michael Archer have both argued for such a life style change in recent years.

Such suggestions may make wonderful dinner party conversation. They demonstrate that you aren't a bunny hugging softy. Unfortunately, they don't stand up to even casual scrutiny. Consider…we currently kill about 20% of our kangaroo population annually and get a mere 1500 tonnes of meat for human consumption. That's about 1/2 a kg per animal. Even if we add in the additional meat sold as pet food, each kangaroo yields only 2 kg per animal. Even if we stop leaving kangaroos shot for the skin trade to rot in paddocks, we still have to realise that they are small animals. The biggest of our kangaroos, the male reds, have an average live weight of only 65 kg, with the females a mere 25 kg. Take out the bones, skin and the other inedibles, and there just isn't much left. Grey kangaroos are even smaller at about 2/3 of this weight. In comparison, cattle yield a thousand times the meat - really. We get 1,700,000 tonnes of beef each year. To get this from kangaroos we would need, at present efficiency rates, to be 200 times the entire kangaroo population annually.

Nor is finger-lick'n possum a real option. We currently put 330 million chickens in sheds each year and raise a 2kg bird in 7 weeks using 3.2 kg of feed (plus a stack of antibiotics - of course). Try that trick with brush tailed possums. First, they are solitary animals which fight when housed in groups. Second, they take about 8-12 months to get to a 2kg liveweight, and lastly they eat a big heap of food getting there.

If significant numbers of Australians were to regularly eat kangaroos, or possums, or ducks, or any other of our native species you care to mention, then those animals would be wiped out in no time.

Many people forget that we have had widespread 'wildlife utilisation' for most of our history and that many of our wildlife protection laws arose because of the damage done to our wildlife during that period. For example, the 1885 Game Act in South Australia outlawed the use of the punt gun, a device mounted on a boat which could reputedly kill 150 pelicans with one shot. The sale of wild ducks was banned in 1928 in SA to protect the population, and even earlier in Victoria.

Our current choices of domestic crops and animals aren't an accident. They have been purpose bred and selected for thousands of years. The modern corncob is much larger than its 1/2 inch ancestor and the animals are bigger, and easier to herd and manage. Jared Diamond's book "Guns, Germs and Steel" gives a solid history of food and the imperatives behind the change to farming and away from wildlife utilisation - which is really just a fancy word for hunter- gathering. With 20 million people in Australia, there is no going back. Wildlife can never provide serious food for such a population.

Make no mistake, I strongly support Michael Archer's call to increase the size of Australia's protected areas, but I think there is a far more efficient way of doing this than eating wildlife.

A quick glance at the Australian Year Book tells us that about 65% of Australia is listed as agricultural and 95% of this is used for grazing - and we export about half of the animal products produced. The other 5% (of the 65%) is cropped and we export about 90% of that (mostly wheat). It is therefore obvious that if you want to maximise the number of people fed while also minimising the land used to do it, then you won't eat animals - wild or domestic. You will be a vegetarian.

"Make no mistake, I strongly support Michael Archer's call to increase the size of Australia's protected areas, but I think there is a far more efficient way of doing this than eating wildlife."
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