A court suspended a government program to kill 7,000 kangaroos on federal land near the Australian capital on Thursday, halting efforts to thin a mushrooming population of the beloved marsupials that authorities say are threatening endangered species.

Animal activists challenged the government's contention that thousands of common eastern gray kangaroos must be urgently slaughtered on Canberra's fringes to protect endangered plants, reptiles and insects that share the grassy habitat with an abundant population of kangaroos.

Killing off vast numbers of the animals — which are featured on the country's coat of arms — is a divisive issue. Population control through vasectomies and oral contraceptives remain experimental alternatives.

Civilian marksmen contracted by the Defense Department and equipped with telescopic sights and spot lights shot and killed 4,000 kangaroos, which are largely nocturnal, at the Majura Training Area over nine nights since last week. The department intends to slash the kangaroo population from 9,000 to 2,000 on the 7,400 acre site.

Australian Capital Territory Administrative Appeals Tribunal President Linda Crebbin on Thursday suspended the shooting permits until a three-member panel could hear conflicting scientific evidence in early June.

The court injunction was sought by the Animal Liberation conservation group, which argued that the kangaroos do not threaten endangered reptile and insect species that share the limited native grasslands around Canberra.

"It allows the government to be held to account by groups such as Animal Liberation and other such group who have the interests of animals at heart," Animal Liberation spokesman Michael Caulfield told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television of the court decision.