Animal Rights Group Protests Planned Australia Kangaroo Cull

Animal rights campaigners protested a plan to shoot more than 3,000 kangaroos on the fringes of Australia's national capital, as authorities claimed Monday the marsupials have become too numerous and risk starvation.

The Defense Department wants to hire professional shooters to cull the kangaroos — Australia's national symbol, which feature in the country's coat of arms — at two of its properties on the outskirts of Canberra.

Canberra's local administration, the Australian Capital Territory government, is expected to decide this week whether to approve the cull, government spokeswoman Yersheena Nichols said.

The Defense Department is experimenting with an oral contraceptive developed for kangaroos in an attempt to thin the numbers of the hopping marsupials at one of the sites in suburban Belconnen, the government said in a statement.

ACT Animal Liberation president Mary Hayes warned that the cull would earn the local government an international reputation for cruelty.

"It is a very cruel, violent way to treat animals," she told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Hayes said the kangaroos were being treated "as if they were weeds to be mown or pulled out."

Under the plan, 3,200 of the common eastern gray kangaroos, which can grow as big as a man and suckle two young simultaneously from teats in their pouches, will be shot by July.

Queensland state Kangaroo Protection Coalition activist Pat O'Brien rejected the government's argument that the kangaroos risked starvation if they were not killed.

"This is just an excuse to kill them," he said.

The government said in a fact sheet released on its Web site that the Canberra area contains the densest populations of kangaroos ever measured — more than 1,100 per square mile.

More than 1,000 kangaroos are killed on Canberra roads each year in traffic accidents that cause more than 6 million Australian dollars (US$5 million) in damage to vehicles, the government said.

The final decision on the cull will be made by government official Russell Watkinson.

"Our concerns are for the welfare of the animals and the potential for a starvation event," Watkinson told the ABC.