Controlling Free-Ranging Kangaroo Populations in Australia with Hormonal Birth Control Implants

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Marsupials are mammals that are defined by birthing their young prematurely and nurturing their offspring for the remainder of their developmental stage in a pouch covering the nipples (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018). The most notable marsupials that come to mind may be the kangaroo, wallaby, wombat, or koala, all of which are endemic to Australia’s mainland and its neighboring islands, as are the majority of the world’s marsupials (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018). While these animals may be unique and adorable to some, many species have become so abundant in regions of Australia that are heavily populated and urbanized by humans that they are widely considered a pest species.

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For instance, as of 2016, the kangaroo population in Australia had surpassed 44 million, a value double that of the human population (Beech et al., 2018).

Of all of the kangaroo species an Australian passerby might observe on a daily basis, the eastern grey kangaroo, or Macropus giganteus, is the most common (Figure 1).

Eastern grey kangaroos are endemic to the south and east coasts of Australiathe same regions most heavily populated by humans (Wilson & Coulson, 2016). Overpopulation of kangaroos in urban settings increases the risk of human-animal interactions resulting in injury to one or both parties. The primary concern is for motorists colliding with the animals on highways and roads, but many residents are apprehensive about encountering kangaroos during low-impact activities such as nightly walks through their urban and suburban neighborhoods (Beech et al., 2018). To add to the anxiety, kangaroos cohabitate with one another and roam in large, interactive groups called mobs. That being said, their group behavior increases the probability that human encounters will involve more than one animal. Additionally, because kangaroos are grazing animals, they pose the risk of outcompeting livestock animals and other wildlife, as well as having negative effects on native vegetation (Descovich et al., 2016).

Until recent years, wildlife managers have relied solely on lethal methods to reduce urban and suburban kangaroo populations to more sustainable levels. While many marsupials are considered protected species throughout Australia, wildlife managers are legally responsible for culling, or slaughtering, a certain quota of kangaroos each year based on the various factors in their regions, (i.e. potential conflicts with competitive species or livestock, local human population density, whether the target kangaroo population after culling will be sustainable, conservation of symbiotic plant and animal species, etc.) (Descovich et al., 2016). With each annual culling animal welfare activists oppose the yearly practice with more intensity, despite the enforcement of various laws to ensure that kangaroos are being killed humanely, such as the fact that kangaroos must only be shot in the head during a cull (BBC, 2017). According to the Australian Department of the Environment and Energy,

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