Are kangaroos vanishing from popular Australian roads?


Squashed bugs on your windscreen and roadkill strewn along the roadside used to be familiar sites, during any road trip on mainland Australia.

But after driving from Sydney to Victoria’s south via the coast and back up through the Princess Highway over the summer holidays, my windscreen was clean and apart from a 70km stretch in NSW between Yass and Goulburn, there were few roos, wombats, or possums dead or alive to be seen.

You can’t always be guaranteed to see live animals — that’s always dependent on the weather and time of day. Roadkill was sad to witness, but it was seen as a rough guide to the abundance of wildlife in the area.

A road sign south of Albury warning about kangaroos, wombats and koalas

South of Albury, there were plenty of warning signs but very little wildlife to be seen. Source: Michael Dahlstrom

I’m not saying kangaroos have vanished from everywhere — after I posted about the lack of road kill to X, formerly Twitter, many people around Queensland reported seeing them in abundance, and the same can be said of parts of Western Australia.

But during my regular road trips out of Sydney over the last 15 years, I’ve noticed wildlife has disappeared from the major roads down to Melbourne.

Why did NSW kangaroo populations drop by 2.2 million?

A couple of days after I returned home to Sydney, the NSW government released its modelling on how many commercially targeted kangaroos and wallaroos live across the state. It found the number had dropped by over 2.2 million, attributing the decline from 11.88 million to 9.63 million “in part” to “environmental and climatic factors”.

“Flooding may have impacted populations indirectly – by impacting the availability of vegetation in some areas – and directly – some animals may have died,” it added.

While the official NSW response did not touch upon the impact of sprawling new housing developments, or culling and harvesting, some wildlife advocates believe these issues pose a problem.

A welcome to Victoria sign

During my drive down the coast from Sydney, I didn’t see a single living kangaroo. Source: Michael Dahlstrom

While the kangaroo harvesting industry maintains its operations are “world’s best practice” and shooters only kill between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of populations, opponents don’t believe the practice is sustainable.

Governments in each state where harvesting is permitted release shooting quotas designed to ensure animal numbers continue to be stable, but the modelling used to create population estimates remains contentious and is disputed by some kangaroo advocates.

Officially, kangaroo numbers are now steady in Victoria and South Australia and have risen in Queensland.

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Wildlife expert recalls disappearance of outback kangaroos

It’s not just in southern NSW and Victoria where declines in kangaroo numbers have been anecdotally observed. During her regular road trips across the outback, Emeritus Professor Gisela Kaplan in Animal Behaviour at the University of New England has noticed they have disappeared from regions where they were once plentiful.

While they still remain plentiful in some isolated pockets, the “impression” she got from her last few trips, including in 2022, is that “something is wrong” across much of the country.

“We used to see a corpse just about every five metres,” she said. “I think in the whole of our 2022 trip we saw three kangaroos and that was at billabongs and nicely shaded areas where there is food available.”

Kaplan acknowledges all Australian animals who live in arid regions show “boom and bust” breeding behaviour and this can cause their populations to fluctuate, but she is “concerned” she hasn’t seen any large mobs for years when driving from Coffs Harbour, through Northern NSW, Central Queensland, onto Mount Isa, and then to Darwin.

“I think it’s important to alert people to the fact that there are silent deaths happening and it’s uncontrolled,” she said. “I remember my first trip into the Outback was in the 1980s.

“I was surrounded by a mob and I got out of the car. A male got out of the car and he was well over two metres. There was assertiveness and a functioning group. There were pregnant females and some with joeys. That something I don’t see now.”

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