For the first time in Victoria, a survey of the kangaroo population was conducted by the state government in 2017.
It gave a "conservative" estimate of 1.4 million.
That data helped inform the state government's decision to extend until September a trial where kangaroo carcasses are used for pet food, and to establish a more permanent industry beyond that.
Only landholders in 16 local government areas including Wangaratta and Benalla have been able to participate.
But should it be extended further across the North East?
The Victorian Farmer's Federation says 'Yes', and animal rights groups just as strongly oppose it.
Numbers in thousands
A second aerial survey of kangaroo populations was done in September and October for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
It focused on the eastern grey, western grey and red kangaroo species, and did not cover forested areas.
The surveys put the state's total kangaroo population at about 17,000 less than the 2017 estimate.
In the North East, there was a density estimate of 11.7 kangaroos for every square kilometre, the third-highest in the state.
Benalla and Wangaratta, the areas approved for the pet food trial, both had estimates above 20,000.
Moira had the largest estimated population of 42,700, with Towong, Indigo and Alpine ranging from 21,900 to 7100.
In Wodonga, the number was 4900.
The Border Mail also requested data from the Department of Defence about populations at South Bandiana, and a spokesman said kangaroo numbers had fluctuated over the past five years.
Numbers have stayed at around 1000 since 2015, with an estimate of 1680 recorded in April, 2018.
The census for 2019 is occurring this month.
The spokesman said there was a kangaroo management plan in place that includes annual monitoring of population and vegetation levels, and that no culls of kangaroos have happened in the past five years.
Asked what would happen with the carcasses in the event of a cull, the spokesman said they would be disposed of in accordance with EPA guidelines.
"DELWP have advised Defence that the kangaroo pet food trial was not applicable to Defence land as the trial only related to private land," he said.
"As part of the trial, the Victorian government will develop a regulatory framework, including a kangaroo management plan.
"Defence will work with DELWP when developing its own kangaroo management plans."
Risks of trial
It is illegal to disturb or destroy protected wildlife including kangaroos in Victoria, without an Authority to Control Wildlife (ATCW) permit.
It is with these permits that landowners control populations, and must demonstrate damage is being caused to their property or to biodiversity.
The pet food trial was established in 2014 so that kangaroos killed through ATCWs would not "go to waste".
In the time that the pet food trial has run, the majority of eligible ATCW permit-holders have chosen not to participate, but the evaluation stated there is "interest" from many and "support from the broader community" for such a program.
However an evaluation done last year revealed problems with the trial, including a sharp rise in the kangaroos approved for control in pet food trial areas from 2014 onwards, which did not happen in non-trial areas.
The evaluation found;
- There is evidence to suggest that commercial gain, rather than damage mitigation, has driven at least some of the kangaroo control during the trial
- Shooters were detected or suspected of overshooting, or swapping tags from smaller kangaroos to larger animals to increase profit, included in 37 cases where investigations were launched
- Some shooters and landholders may have exaggerated the scale of the problem to apply for higher numbers
- The costs of the trial outweighed the benefits
The Australian Society for Kangaroos president Nikki Sutterby raised concern when the report was released, as did the Kangaloola Wildlife Shelter secretary Chris Lehmann.
"This is a massive increase in the slaughter and suffering of our iconic kangaroos and native animals in Victoria and is of great concern, particularly considering none of these permits are supervised at the point of kill," Ms Sutterby said.
Despite the evaluation's findings, the Victorian Farmer's Federation believes the trial has been a success.
"The reality is where they have been shooting, the numbers are not diminished; that is shown anecdotally by farmers and the government survey," livestock group president Leonard Vallance said.
"In some places, the populations are so high kangaroos are actually starving.
"We want a permanent, regulated industry, which is harvesting kangaroos and providing protein to the pet food industry rather than just wasting it."
While the government's kangaroo survey considers sustainable culling to be 10 to 20 per cent of the overall population, it is not stated directly in the evaluation of the pet food trial how many kangaroos have been killed over the last five years.
Looking at the number of kangaroos approved for control in the 16 trial local government areas (more than 400,000) and the percentage of carcasses actually processed, at least 200,000 kangaroos have been killed over the trial's duration.
That number does not take into account all approvals statewide under the ATCW system, and animal welfare groups claim the figure is more towards one million.
Then-Environment Minister Lisa Neville told The Age in 2016 that 135,000 kangaroos were destroyed under the permit system in 2015 and about 21,000 of those were used in the pet food trial.
The trial was not established to increase the number of kangaroos controlled, she said.
The evaluation of the pet food trial found "that it is financially and environmentally unsustainable to continue the trial under its current model linked to the ATCW system".
The new kangaroo harvesting framework will operate independently of the ATCW system, but there may still be opportunities for people to allow harvesting to take place on their properties.
The areas where harvesting may take place will be based on the kangaroo population survey data.
A DELWP spokesman said the framework was about delivering certainty to farming communities, while sustainably managing kangaroo populations.
"The process for developing the KMP will commence shortly, with appropriate consultation with stakeholders, and community members an important part of the plan's development and implementation," he said.
"More information on consultation opportunities will be announced in the coming months."
Benambra MP Bill Tilley said it was time the government be clear about what the new structure would look like.
"We've had years now of trials, they have been successful and I think that our part of the state needs to be included," he said.
"We hear stories day-in and day-out of people hitting animals, and outnumbering those are the near misses - it's a safety issue as well.
"Certainly control measures need to be put into place and there's a resource out there that should be put to good use."
Benambra MP Bill Tilley also wants more to be done to control deer populations in the North East.
In many areas of his electorate, he says, deer cause more problems for landholders than any type of wildlife.
Parks Victoria is currently implementing a three-year program to trial different deer control techniques in the Alpine National Park, with the next phase of aerial deer shooting to occur between May 6 and May 17 at Bogong and Mount Feathertop.
The cost of the trial so far has not yet been revealed but Mr Tilley said alternative, cheaper methods for population control should be identified.
"I don't believe that's been the most effective way to control those numbers," he said.
"We can work through the issues and give primary producers and the community at large confidence it can be done effectively."
Mr Tilley said involving shooters on the ground could be part of an increased program to control deer numbers.