Australian farmers should be allowed and encouraged to commercially harvest kangaroos to stop environmental degradation and sudden population crashes, researchers have argued.
A research paper written by Australian National University zoologist George Wilson said Australia was constantly seeing the rise of unsustainable kangaroo populations that then crash during droughts.
As drought conditions worsen, more kangaroos will starve or be forced into urban areas, leading to more road accidents, Professor Wilson warned.
The paper referenced research by ACT park ranger Bethany Dunne in which she estimated Canberrans claimed more than $10 million in insurance from roo collisions between March 2016 and June 2017.
By upping the value of kangaroo meat and counting wild roos as part of farm populations, Australia could reduce its carbon footprint, prevent overgrazing and keep roo numbers at environmentally sustainable levels, the paper argued.
Professor Wilson, a former wildlife veterinarian, said keeping roo populations in check by killing them was the humane thing to do.
"There are big animal welfare issues associated with the collapse of animal populations," he said.
Currently, kangaroo culls in Australia are performed in proportion to local populations. But sometimes these targets aren't met or don't correlate with peak periods, the paper said.
Most of these dead roos are disposed of, potentially wasting millions in revenue.
The majority of the country's 40-million-strong roo population is on pastoral land which leads to overgrazing as livestock share the grass with hungry roos, Professor Wilson said.
Professor Wilson's paper, which he cowrote with colleague Melanie Edwards, also said the price of kangaroo meat should go up.
Currently, kangaroo meat is worth about 60 cents a kilogram, with an average 23-kilogram roo fetching about $13. The total value of roos in Australian rangelands is about $550 million.
This is compared to cattle, which are worth about $800 a head in a $6 billion industry, sheep, which are valued at $100 a head in a $3.7 billion industry, and feral goats, which fetch $70 a head with their population valued at about $250 million.
"Kangaroos should be worth just as much as a feral goat or feral deer; that's a national disgrace," Professor Wilson said.
"We've taken away the dingoes, we've taken away Aboriginal harvesting, we provide more water.
"You cannot walk away from it and say 'just let nature take its course'."
The paper pointed to how roo meat is high in protein and low in fat, with carcasses returning an efficient yield of meat.
It also showed that while one kilogram of beef produces 25 kilograms of carbon dioxide, one kilogram of kangaroo meat produces 0.75 kilograms of carbon dioxide.
Beef production also requires 300 litres of water for one kilogram, while roo meat requires 91 litres to produce one kilogram.
Professor Wilson said he wanted to see Meat and Livestock Australia, a grazier lobbyist and research body famous for its lamb ads, work with farmers to increase the value of kangaroo meat and help grow the commercial industry.
He said an expanded professional harvesting regime would require hunters to bring killed roos to an inspector to see if they had been killed humanely.
"We can kill 500 million chickens a year and enormous amounts of cattle, most of which have been raised in far worse animal welfare circumstances," Professor Wilson said.
In the meantime, amateur hunters were cruelly killing roos while farmers erected kangaroo-proof fences which had other environmental implications, he said.
Drought conditions, which forced roos onto irrigated farmland, forced farmers to share feed, land and water with roos they had no incentive to harvest.
While the ACT was seeing the same drought conditions gripping neighbouring NSW, Professor Wilson warned the ACT government should look to manage kangaroo numbers now before they became a problem.
He compared the situation to the problem of rampant feral horse populations in Kosciuszko National Park, where horses were destroying the environment and starving to death as they overgrazed.
And while Australians may not like the idea of eating a national emblem, Professor Wilson said Aboriginal cultures had both revered the kangaroo and hunted it too.
"It's not impossible to have an icon and to use it and consume it," he said.