CANBERRA, Australia – Police arrested eight Aboriginal activists after they climbed a fence into a government site Wednesday to protest the culling of 400 kangaroos, which are viewed as sacred symbols by Australia's indigenous people.
The four men and four women were charged with trespassing and released on bail. They were scheduled to appear in court next month, police said.
The eight Aboriginal protesters, led by renowned activist Isabel Coe, climbed over a gate to enter the abandoned military site in Canberra. They carried the black, red and yellow Aboriginal flag and smoldering eucalyptus leaves to light what Coe called a "sacred fire," which the activists sat around.
"We're here to claim our land today and to save the kangaroos," Coe said.
The activists did not resist when police arrested them about an hour after the protest began. Some 30 protesters who remained outside the fence jeered the police. The protest was out of sight of the pens where kangaroos have been corralled before being killed with lethal injections.
Australians are divided on the merits of a mass killing of an iconic animal featured in their national coat of arms.
Defense Department authorities began the cull on Monday on the site where about 600 kangaroos live. Scientists say the kangaroos' growing population threatens the animals' own survival, as well as that of endangered native species of reptiles and insects.
Officials have refused to comment on how many kangaroos had so far been killed in an operation that was expected to take two to three weeks.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was monitoring the cull and said inspectors at the site Monday found animal welfare standards were met.
Defense officials reported Wednesday that intruders had cut through two internal fences overnight on the site, freeing six kangaroos from a yard where they had been recovering from the effects of tranquilizer darts.
These kangaroos had been sedated as part of fertility experiments and were not to be killed with lethal injections, Defense spokesman Brigadier Andrew Nikolic said in a statement.
Five of the kangaroos were recaptured but one had escaped to the free kangaroo population on the site, Nikolic said.
"The cull is being undertaken in the most humane manner possible and under the guidance of animal management experts," he said.
A police statement said that the eight activists were released on bail on condition that they do not again enter the site. They will make their first court appearance on June 6 on the trespass charges, which carry a maximum fine of $1,050.
But a protest leader Pat O'Brien, who was not arrested, said the Aborigines plan to apply for a court injunction preventing the slaughter of any more kangaroos while they fight the charges.