Flashlight in one hand, walkie-talkie in the other, Fiona Corke is out on a dark night in a national park in the Australian capital looking for marksmen.
“You see them?” she whispered into her transmitter.
“I can hear them,” replied a fellow member of the Australian Society for Kangaroos from inside the Crace Nature Reserve.
The pair are part of a group opposed to the “massacre” of eastern grey kangaroos near Canberra in an authorized cull that began late last month with marksmen planning to shoot dead more than 2,000 of the animals.
The Australian government says they threaten the biodiversity of nature reserves and their numbers need to be kept in check.
Carolyn Drew, an activist with Animal Liberation, says small groups of people go out nightly attempting to halt the killings.
“If we manage to find shootings going on a park, we run in with torches and make a noise,” she says. “When they know activists are in the park, they ask the shooters to stop straight away. They’ll come back the next night, but they’ll surround the park with police so that the activists find it very difficult to get in.”
Corke insists there is no credible evidence to prove that kangaroos cause any ecological damage. “They have been part of this landscape for thousands of years, and they a have a right to be here,” she said.
However, Parks and Conservation Service director Daniel Iglesias said controlling the eastern greys, one of the largest kangaroo species, is necessary.
“They have no predators, damage the environment and threaten the survival of several rare species such as the striped legless lizard and the grassland earless dragon,” he said.
According to authorities, to maintain an ecological balance there should be the equivalent of one to one-and-a-half kangaroos per hectare. Currently, there are six to seven in some parks.
“At the beginning of each year, we count them, we compare the number we have to the number that is sustainable. The difference is the cull quota,” Iglesias said.
The shootings are part of the Australian Capital Territory’s (ACT) Kangaroo Management Plan, adopted in 2010, and they are being conducted according to a strict code of practice endorsed by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
“They are professional marksmen that are specifically trained to kill kangaroos. The most humane way to do it is by a clean shot to the head,” Iglesias said.
According to Iglesias, the cull will cost more than AU$200,000 (US$192,000) this year — about AU$100 per animal.
A survey recently conducted by authorities showed seven out of 10 ACT residents were in favor of the killings, up from 58 percent three years ago, although a separate Canberra Times poll points to only 41 percent approving.
Amid claims by activists that a shot to the head is a cruel way of killing, a program is underway to develop a vaccination plan to prevent breeding and control populations more humanely.
However, any anti-fertility drug in bait-form will not be ready for years. Until then, high-powered rifles will be used.