Shooting Skippy

Australia’s love of kangaroos is far from universal – a controversial new film that stoked the fires of a national debate has just qualified for the 2018 Academy Awards

Australia. Land of beaches, Neighbours, Vegemite and, of course, kangaroos. In fact, nothing quite says Australia like the sight of these loping marsupials bounding across the outback. Any country would be proud to call these imperious jumpers their own. Well, not quite.

While many Australians do indeed cherish their national animal (of which there are reported to be between 47 and 50 million), a film that is currently premiering across the globe has lifted the lid on one of the country’s darkest secrets: kangaroo culling. Simply titled Kangaroo, it has proved to be the spark that has ignited a national debate now raging from Geraldton to the Gold Coast.

We spoke to the film’s directors, Kate McIntyre Clere and Michael McIntyre, prior to attending the London premiere in early June, and we started by asking them why they decided to focus on the plight of kangaroos in the first place.

“Kangaroos are one of the most recognisable symbols in the world and have always held a fascination for us. No film had explored this icon before. We set out to make a story that celebrated this magnificent animal but soon discovered that the kangaroo was at the heart of a bitter, complex and divided situation in Australia. We were shocked to learn that millions of kangaroos are shot each year as so-called pests and sold for profit.”

Incredibly, this wide-scale culling has, until now, remained largely in the shadows, with the general public seemingly unaware of what has been happening, a view reinforced by the McIntyres.

“When we started work on the film, an early interview with a government scientist revealed that the killing of kangaroos in Australia was the largest terrestrial wildlife slaughter in the world. As Australians we found this alarming and had never heard this mentioned before across any media.

We discovered that with the growth of the commercial kangaroo industry, so-called pest mitigation, recreational and illegal shooting, as well as road-kill and other accidental/collateral death, there is no data collected on the number of kangaroo deaths that occur daily and how many kangaroos remain. Some scientists and conservationists are reporting both local and regional extinctions.”

While the film has certainly uncovered many talking points that are now rightly being discussed across Australia and in parts of the wider world, it has also come in for some stiff criticism from those in the kangaroo meat industry who feel it is too one-sided in its approach. And although the directors spoke to a wide range of people while shooting the film, it would be fair to say that it does not lend much screen time to the other side of the argument.

“As the issue is so polarised in Australia there has been lots of shouting and resistance on social media and across the press since the film’s release. The film certainly struck a nerve.”

Many of the nerves on which this film is getting belong to the people who rely on the kangaroo meat trade for a living, some of whom have labelled the film a ‘beat up’ on the industry and point to the monetary reasons behind keeping wild populations in check. Kangaroo farming is estimated to generate $200 million (approximately £150.7 million) annually for the Australian economy and creates over 4,000 jobs, including 2,000 kangaroo harvesters.

While the idea of shooting these beautiful animals understandably upsets many people, it is worth noting that in order to kill a roo one must be in possession of a permit – downing a kangaroo without one can result in a A$10,000 (around £5,500) fine. It is also important to consider exactly how many kangaroos are culled annually. According to Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud just three per cent of the kangaroo population is harvested, which, if true (the directors do not agree with this figure), does seem to punch a serious hole in the film’s claim that kangaroos are in danger of disappearing.

Even so, this may not have been the main point that the McIntyres were driving at when filming, as is perhaps revealed in their answer when we asked what they hoped their film would achieve.

“With breathtaking footage of kangaroos in the wild, we hope this film will give the audience an up-close experience of this unique species and bring to the table a conversation that Australians seem reluctant to have. It’s time people in Australia and across the world know what is going on and ask the question: why is no one responding to the barbaric treatment of this magnificent wildlife?”

To find out more about the movie, head to the Kangaroo website. To keep up with everything that’s going on in the animal kingdom, subscribe to World of Animals!

 

Words: Charlie Ginger