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Kangaroos in the firing line in Australia

AUSTRALIA'S capital is plagued by too many kangaroos, and the best answer is to shoot them in regular culls, an official said today. Horrified conservationists vowed to demonstrate if authorities tried it.

Canberra has among the densest populations of the common eastern gray kangaroo in Australia, and they are regularly seen hopping in parks and other places around the city.

The kangaroo is a national emblem of Australia, but it can also be a nuisance. The animals munching grass and shrubs around Canberra are degrading their own habitats and adding to threats posed to rare insects and lizards.

Kangaroos hopping across streets are a frequent traffic hazard in Canberra, and they can pose other problems - as one family in the city discovered last week when a confused and panicked kangaroo leapt through a bedroom window and bounded around the house until it could be thrust out the front door.

Jon Stanhope, the chief minister of the Australian Capital Territory where Canberra is located, released a draft plan today describing how his government would reduce numbers the city's kangaroo population by shooting them - a method that has long divided this community of 330,000 people.

The plan does not say how many kangaroos should be killed.

Supporters say the absence of more effective biological controls leaves shooting as the most humane way to control kangaroo numbers.

"There are probably more eastern gray kangaroos in Canberra now than any time in the last 100 years," Stanhope told reporters. "I think we have perhaps tried too hard not to cull."

The territory's government has been involved since 1998 in research to develop an oral contraceptive for kangaroos but none is yet effective in the wild.

Stanhope said the research to develop humane alternatives to shooting would be encouraged.

The report ruled out trapping and trucking kangaroos to where they are less abundant because the process was expensive, unproven and illogical given there was no threat to the species' survival.

Pat O'Brien, president of the Wildlife Protection Association of Australia, warned that authorities would be met by protests if they tried to shoot kangaroos.

"The whole thing is a propaganda exercise to try to get public support for killing kangaroos," O'Brien said. Kangaroo number were high, "but there's certainly not too many of them."

The killing of 400 kangaroos out of 600 at an abandoned military site in Canberra last year triggered several heated protests.

Those kangaroos were killed with lethal injections because firearms were judged to be too dangerous at the site, which was within Canberra's city limits.

Recent government surveys said some 17 percent of Canberra drivers had reported having collided with a kangaroo at sometime in the past, though 82 percent of respondents considered it important that wild kangaroos continue to live in the city.


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