Eastern Grey Kangaroos - Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate - Environment

Eastern Grey Kangaroos

Kangaroos are a valued and integral part of grassy ecosystems in the ACT. Kangaroo management protects native species and ecosystems, including the habitat required to support sustainable kangaroo populations.

Grazing by Eastern Grey Kangaroos is important for maintaining healthy, functioning grassy ecosystems. However, research shows under some conditions kangaroos can eat down the ground layer vegetation, removing important habitat for other species, including threatened flora and fauna, and degrading the condition of Critically Endangered grassy ecosystems.

Research has shown that there is an optimum range of grass height to maintain populations of a diversity of reptiles, insects, and small mammals in our grassy ecosystems (5 – 15cm). When grass is higher or lower, these habitats may no longer provide appropriate food and shelter for small animals such as reptiles, insects, small mammals and ground feeding birds. This is of particular concern for some of our threatened species, including the Grassland Earless Dragon, Striped Legless Lizard, Pink-tailed Worm Lizard, Perunga Grasshopper, Hooded Robin, and Brown Treecreeper, which rely on an intact grassy layer for survival. A loss of ground cover can also cause significant soil loss from wind, heavy rain and erosion – risking eventual ecosystem collapse.

Managing kangaroos is just one element of a broader program of land management aimed at protecting our lowland grassy ecosystems. We work closely with our community to undertake restoration activities, including planting trees and shrubs, preventing erosion and subsequent soil loss, and in managing introduced plant and animal species that pose further risks to biodiversity. Other methods such as ecological burning, strategic livestock grazing and slashing are also used to ensure our grassy ecosystems provide suitable habitat conditions for supporting our unique biodiversity.

Management policy

In 2017, Eastern Grey Kangaroos were declared a controlled native species under the Nature Conservation Act 2014 in recognition of their potential to impact on environmental, economic and social values.

The ACT Government's policies surrounding the management of Eastern Grey Kangaroos in the ACT are set out in the Eastern Grey Kangaroo: Controlled Native Species Management Plan. Under the Nature Conservation Act 2014, the Conservator of Flora and Fauna is required to review a controlled native species management plan every five years. To ensure openness and transparency throughout review of the 2017 plan, an independent review process is being undertaken in late 2023. A revised Eastern Grey Kangaroo Controlled Native Species Management Plan is expected to be released for public feedback in 2024.

The 2010 ACT kangaroo management plan (6.4 MB) remains the ACT policy document for macropod species other than Eastern Grey Kangaroos in the ACT and all species of macropods at Googong Foreshores.

Management tools

The ACT government undertakes a range of actions to manage kangaroo grazing, including culling, fertility control and fencing.

As land managers, we have a responsibility to balance the health and survival of all species. The decision to reduce the numbers of a native species is carefully evaluated to ensure a positive benefit to all species.

The conservation cull is undertaken in strict accordance with the National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Non-Commercial Purposes. Kangaroo shooters in the ACT are required to pass a challenging marksmanship test, display a thorough understanding of the National Code of Practice and macropod identification.

To achieve the objectives of the conservation cull with minimal disruption to the community, operations are only conducted at night when the reserves are formally closed to the public. Reserves are closed as late as possible and opened as early as possible, operations vary in locations across the five nights and firearms are supressed to reduce noise.

The ACT conservation cull is distinct from damage mitigation culling, which is undertaken to maintain economic viability predominantly on rural lands. Additionally, the ACT Government does not cull to address vehicle-kangaroo collisions.

Fertility control, through GonaCon Immunocontraceptive Vaccine (GonaCon), was incorporated into the Eastern Grey Kangaroo management program in 2022. Informed by 20+ years of ACT Government-supported fertility control research, the integration of fertility control into kangaroo management represents the ACT Government’s on-going commitment to innovation and continual improvement and exploring non-lethal management tools.

Treatment of female kangaroos with GonaCon has commenced at Farrer Ridge Nature Reserve and Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary. The initial recommendation, informed by population modelling, is to treat approximately 70% of the adult females in a population with GonaCon. This level of infertility is expected to reduce population growth, thus reducing the need for culling, but will still retain some breeding animals in the population to offset natural mortality and keep numbers at a sustainable level.

Once the desired proportion of the population is rendered infertile, it is anticipated that some follow-up treatments will be required in future years to maintain an appropriate level of infertility. A low level of culling may also be needed in some years to keep the population at a sustainable size relative to the vegetation conditions. Ongoing kangaroo management recommendations will be informed by kangaroo population estimates, vegetation surveys, fecundity assessments (the proportion of adult female kangaroos observed with pouch young) and observations of the proportion of tagged vs untagged adult female kangaroos in the population.

Fertility control recommendations and the number of females successfully treated in 2022 and 2023 are provided in the table below. Further treatments are expected to be required at these sites in future years and new sites will be added to the program when operationally feasible.

SiteRecommended number of treated females (based on 2023 advice)Females treated 2022Females treated 2023Total treated
Farrer Ridge Nature Reserve53183553
Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary65412365

Fertility control is not going to be a feasible option for all sites. In large, connected landscapes, conservation culling will continue to be required.

For more information, visit the macropod research page.

In dry years, additional measures such as temporary fences, or replacing surface rocks or branches, are used to protect key areas from grazing by kangaroos when the grass is not actively growing.

Notably, translocation is not a management tool. The ACT policy against translocation as an alternative to culling is common to all Australian states and territories. Translocation is not a feasible option. Firstly, it is very difficult to catch kangaroos and very traumatic for them so there are significant concerns about survival rates during and following relocation. Secondly, the translocation of kangaroos could cause enormous stress to the animals and put them at risk of starvation by releasing them into an ecosystem that is unfamiliar and unlikely to support additional grazing pressure. It could also threaten the other animals and plants in that ecosystem.

Targets and outcomes

Calculating target population densities

The ACT Government employs expert ecologists to provide an evidence base for conservation land management. We work closely with research partners across Australia to ensure we are connected, innovative and informed in everything we do.

Kangaroo management, including culling and fertility control, is based on annual ecological assessments at each location and only takes place if densities are found to be above the level deemed appropriate for biodiversity conservation.

Each year ACT Government ecologists carry out an extensive scientific assessment of grass condition and the kangaroo population at each priority Canberra Nature Park reserve. Using this data, a sustainable ‘target’ number of kangaroos can be calculated for each site according to current conditions. By comparing this target density with the current population size, the number of kangaroos to cull can be calculated. This ensures ecosystems can remain healthy and resilient in the absence of natural predation.

Assessing current kangaroo population size is an important part of informing kangaroo management decisions.

Kangaroo population estimates are calculated through robust, scientifically recognised methods, suited to the size, vegetation and terrain of each reserve. Methods for counting kangaroos are described in the Eastern Grey Kangaroo: Controlled Native Species Management Plan and in the peer reviewed publication How many macropods? A manager's guide to small-scale population surveys of kangaroos and wallabies.

The survey techniques adopted for this purpose in Canberra Nature Park reserves include:

  • Direct counts - Direct counts require observers searching the entire site and counting all individual kangaroos without missing any or counting any more than once. This method of counting is only suitable for small sites with open vegetation and requires a high amount of knowledge about the site and the behaviour of the animals. Repeat counts are undertaken to validate results. Direct counts are successfully used by ACT Government ecologists to count kangaroos in various small reserves including Mulanggari Nature Reserve and Crace Nature Reserve.
  • Sweep counts - Sweep counts involve a coordinated line of people walking across a site and counting the kangaroos that move through the line. This type of count is suitable for sites larger than those that can be counted directly, but where the vegetation and terrain allow for good visibility from one counter to the next. This count method is successfully used at Gungaderra Nature Reserve.
  • Walked line transect "Distance" counts – Walked line transect surveys are suited to larger or more heavily vegetated sites where kangaroos cannot be reliably counted by a direct or sweep count. This type of survey involves an observer walking along fixed linear transects and recording the distance and compass bearing to groups of kangaroos. Observers walk a total of approximately 44 km of transects per site which takes approximately 11 days. Surveys are undertaken in the early morning when kangaroos are evenly dispersed across the grazing landscape and are most likely to be detected from the transect lines. These measurements are used to calculate the density of kangaroos across the whole site. Walked line transect counts are widely used across the world for estimating the density of wildlife. It is the most commonly used method for estimating kangaroo populations in the ACT and is used as sites such as Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary, Farrer Ridge Nature Reserve and Red Hill Nature Reserve.

Kangaroo population surveys and the resulting management recommendations consider only 'independently mobile' kangaroos. No attempt is made to count young in the pouch due to their difficulty to detect at young ages, and highly variable recruitment rate into the adult population. Pouch young are not included in culling targets, but numbers of pouch young killed are recorded and reported after operations are completed.

Herbage mass surveys are undertaken annually to collect data on the current composition and condition of the grassy layer within each reserve.

Without appropriate grass structure (average grass heights between 5 to 15 cm), grassy habitats may no longer provide food and shelter for small animals such as reptiles, insects, small mammals and ground feeding birds. This is of particular concern for some of our threatened species, including the Grassland Earless Dragon, Striped Legless Lizard, Pink-tailed Worm Lizard, Perunga Grasshopper, Hooded Robin, and Brown Treecreeper, which rely on an intact grassy layer for survival. A loss of ground cover can also cause significant soil loss from wind, heavy rain and erosion – risking eventual ecosystem collapse.

Management advice

Kangaroo population estimates, vegetation survey results and kangaroo management recommendations are included in the annual Eastern Grey Kangaroo – Conservation Management Advice Reports. These reports are published online annually after the completion of the Conservation Culling program. The recommendations in these reports are subject to an operational review and an achievable program is designed each year.

Animal welfare

The ACT Governments kangaroo management program is nationally recognized for its innovation and commitment to best practice. Shooting is recognised by the RSPCA, as well as Commonwealth, State and Territory governments as the most humane method of culling currently available to us.

The conservation cull is undertaken in strict accordance with the National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Non-Commercial Purposes. The ACT also employs additional measures so that best-practice animal welfare standards are met and exceeded. Kangaroo shooters in the ACT are required to pass a challenging marksmanship test and tests on the National Code of Practice and macropod identification. In 2023, an audit of compliance undertaken by an independent veterinarian found that all aspects of the Code of Practice were complied with.

The ACT is the only jurisdiction that restricts culling of female kangaroos to a specific time period each year. Eastern Grey Kangaroos in this region breed seasonally so the culling season is designed to avoid the time of year when most female kangaroos have young aged 8-12 months old (large pouch young or small young-at-foot). Young in this age bracket are highly dependent on their mothers for milk but are sufficiently mobile to escape when the mother is shot. By completing culling operations between March and July only, we significantly reduce the risk of orphaning young in the vulnerable age bracket, increasing welfare outcomes for our kangaroo populations. Further information can be found in Seasonal breeding of the Eastern Grey Kangaroo provides opportunities for improved animal welfare in kangaroo management.

We continue to research and trial non-lethal strategies for maintaining grassy habitat within our reserves.

Research

The ACT Government is committed to evidence-based kangaroo management and is a leader in Eastern Grey Kangaroo research through its own work and through partnerships with other organisations. Research, which informs decisions about kangaroo management, includes studies on fertility control, kangaroo abundance, population dynamics and the effects of grazing on grassland and woodland biodiversity.

Visit the macropod research page for more information on current and past research.

Opinion polls

The ACT Government commissions random telephone survey to ascertain the opinions of ACT residents towards kangaroos and kangaroo management. For more information, please view the full reports below.

Attitudes of ACT Residents to Kangaroo Management

Carcass Utilisation

Carcasses, or parts thereof, are made available for indigenous cultural use, food for endangered species breeding programs, and a proportion of the kangaroo meat is processed into baits for use within the ACT Government wild dog and fox control programs.

There are no commercial kangaroo harvesting arrangements in the ACT. Given the relatively low number of kangaroos being culled, and the high costs of establishing, administering and monitoring a commercial operation, it is currently not cost-effective for the ACT Government to enter the commercial industry.

Living with kangaroos

In Canberra, we are in a unique position where animals and their habitats are often right in our own backyards. It’s important to understand the patterns and behaviours of wildlife to ensure we protect ourselves and our native species.

When encountering kangaroos, please remember:

  • We know how tempting it can be, but please remember that wildlife is meant to be wild.
  • To ensure kangaroos don’t feel threatened, admire them from afar and keep your dogs on lead. Do not approach kangaroos.
  • Human-fed animals can quickly become aggressive when they expect humans to feed them or lose their ability to forage naturally. Do not feed kangaroos.
  • If the kangaroo is badly injured, call Access Canberra on 13 22 81 and a ranger will attend as soon as possible.

For more information, check out our Living with Kangaroos Brochure (683.9 KB).

Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal people as traditional custodians of the ACT and recognise any other people or families with connection to the lands of the ACT and region. We acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region.