Australian Court Halts Killing Of Kangaroos

06/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

CANBERRA, Australia — Local lawmakers may write new legislation ensuring kangaroos can be shot to curb overpopulation problems, an Australian official said Friday, a day after a court suspended a program to kill thousands of the beloved marsupials outside the capital.

Animal activists challenged the government's contention that thousands of common eastern gray kangaroos must be urgently slaughtered on Canberra's fringes to protect endangered plants, reptiles and insects that share the grassy habitat with an abundant population of kangaroos.

Killing off vast numbers of the animals _ which are featured on the Australia's coat of arms _ is a divisive issue. Population control through vasectomies and oral contraceptives remain experimental alternatives.

Civilian marksmen contracted by the Defense Department and equipped with telescopic sights and spotlights shot and killed 4,000 kangaroos, which are largely nocturnal, at the Majura Training Area near Canberra over nine nights since last week. The department wants to slash the kangaroo population from 9,000 to 2,000 on the 7,400 acre (3,000 hectare) site.

Australian Capital Territory Administrative Appeals Tribunal President Linda Crebbin on Thursday suspended the shooting permits until a three-member panel could hear conflicting scientific evidence on June 2.

The court injunction was sought by the Animal Liberation conservation group, which argued that the kangaroos do not threaten endangered reptile and insect species that share the limited native grasslands around Canberra.

Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said Friday that Canberra's local government is looking into changing the law so the tribunal can never again stop a cull.

"A very difficult, problematic, intractable issue _ namely the difficult issue of having to cull kangaroos _ is being made that much more difficult," Stanhope told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

He said the delay meant the entire ecosystem near Canberra was at risk from the kangaroos and that was "simply unacceptable."

Nikki Sutterby, coordinator of the Australian Society for Kangaroos, a conservation group that backed the challenge, said Friday that she was glad that a judge rather than the government would decide whether the killings were warranted.

"These kangaroos belong in that environment and there is no real evidence to prove that they are doing any harm to it," Sutterby said.

While the government is explaining the need to kill kangaroos in purely environmental terms, a population explosion of the marsupials in the region is causing other concerns.

Kangaroos are an increasing traffic hazard on area roads, and a Canberra resident recently had to wrestle a kangaroo from his house to protect his family after it smashed through his bedroom window.