The Defense Department wants to hire professional shooters to cull the kangaroos at two of its properties on the outskirts of Canberra, where some areas have as many as 1,100 kangaroos per square mile — the densest kangaroo population ever measured in the region.
Canberra's local government is expected to decide this week whether to approve the cull, government spokeswoman Yersheena Nichols said.
Under the plan, 3,200 of the common eastern gray kangaroos, which can grow as big as a man, will be shot by July.
The territory's Animal Liberation president Mary Hayes warned that such an action 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. (ABC) radio.
Nora Preston from the Wildlife Carers Group said she disputed government claims that there are 3,200 kangaroos on the site of the proposed cull.
"I don't believe that there's 3,200 kangaroos on either site. I don't believe there is that amount. I dispute that amount," Preston said. "They actually end up bashing them to death. It's never a clean kill," she added.
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 Defense Department said the 6,500 kangaroos at its two sites were not only threatening their own survival, they were destroying the habitat of endangered species, including the grassland earless dragon, striped legless lizard and golden sun moth.
The government said on its Web site that there has been a population explosion of kangaroos in the territory, which includes Canberra.
Officials have conducted periodic culls of the fast-breeding kangaroo, which is Australia's national symbol but also a pest in agricultural areas, eating pastures intended for livestock.
Millions are killed in more rural areas of Australia each year — the government noted that more than 1,000 kangaroos are killed just on Canberra roads each year in traffic accidents that cause more than $5 million in damage to vehicles — but killing 3,000 kangaroos in more urban Canberra and the surrounding Australian Capital Territory has raised protests.
A cull of about 800 kangaroos in the Canberra area in 2004 also brought a large outcry from animal activists.
In 2003, authorities ordered the killing of 6,500 eastern grays at the Puckapunyal military base, 62 miles north of Melbourne. A year earlier, a similar shooting operation killed more than 20,000 kangaroos on the base.
Russell Watkinson from the Australia Capitol Territory Government will have the final decision, and he said in their opinion the cull was probably the best option for the animals.
"If we try to relocate them, that's quite stressful on the animals and [would] really relocate the problem somewhere else. So the cull is probably the most effective and the most humane option," he added.
Watkinson said it was the objective of the ACT government to keep the kangaroos at a sustainable level so that the culling would not be necessary in the future.
"Our concerns are for the welfare of the animals and the potential for a starvation event, and also the fact that there are some rare and threatened species in these grasslands under some further threat due to overgrazing," Watkinson told ABC.
Scientists soon plan to test an oral contraceptive developed for kangaroos in an attempt to thin their numbers at one of the sites in suburban Belconnen, according to government ecologist Don Fletcher.
"Shooting kangaroos is a violent thing that for urban populations is becoming increasingly undesirable," said Fletcher, who is developing the contraceptive in conjunction with the University of Newcastle for trial on 20 female survivors of the cull.