It's been suggested that prior to 1788 there was a natural balance in predator-prey relationships. As an apex predator, the humble dingo played a pivotal role within the ecological web of life.
As Europeans colonised the limestone plains, the native dingo watched on, surveying the open grassy woodlands. Kangaroos grazed. Dingoes preyed. There was a natural rhythm.
Then began the clearing of fertile land. This native dog was seen as a menace, for it soon developed a taste for fat, woolly sheep. After all, gangly kangaroos were problematic. Sheep were easy prey. Dingo numbers dwindled as they were hunted down. Opportunistic kangaroos populated. The once natural order was influenced by the touch of the human hand.
As the new farmers improved their pastures, they built dams. The rural landscape changed again and, again, kangaroo numbers increased in response.
To keep this healthy kangaroo population in check, farmers turned to the gun. But as this agricultural landscape transitioned into our urban world, the resourceful kangaroo once again seized the moment.
We manicured lawns, built lush sports grounds and set aside nature reserves, all free from any natural predator. Today, in our bush capital we record some of the highest residential densities of kangaroos in Australia.
It's not realistic to bring back an apex predator to perform its vital role. That role of contemporary population control now falls to us. After all, we humans inadvertently tipped the balance in favour of kangaroos to the detriment of biodiversity values.
Kangaroos are critical in maintaining grassy habitat, but overgrazing by hungry kangaroos - especially during times of drought - is evident. The scientific evidence is clear. The ecological impact is obvious. Regrettably, we must take steps to address an ecological predicament shaped by anthropomorphic practices.
A non-lethal fertility control vaccine is on the horizon, but is not yet operationally viable. Today, humanly culling overabundant kangaroos remains the most effective means of managing populations to reduce the environmental impact large numbers of grazing kangaroos are having upon this ancient landscape.
This year's conservation cull will be the largest to date. Given the lack of rain, if we don't reduce kangaroo numbers now, ecosystems will suffer further degradation before many kangaroos starve to death. Winter can be harsh. Remnant grassy habitat will deteriorate, leaving vulnerable native species at risk. Adopting the latest scientific research, our ecologists have analysed the status of kangaroo populations and the grassy layer to determine the numbers to be culled. This is all to strike a balance for our environment.
Nobody likes culling kangaroos, but given the influence humans have had upon this landscape, as conservation custodians we must manage today for tomorrow to ensure the ecological integrity of the conservation estate for all species, and for those generations who will walk in our footsteps.
For further information along with detailed reserve closures visit www.environment.act.gov.au.
- Brett McNamara is with ACT Parks and Conservation Service.