Animal rights campaigners protest shooting kengaroos in Australian capital

Australia is to decide whether to save 3.000 kangaroos or protect endangered species of plants. Animal rights campaigners protested a plan to shoot marsupials near the Australian national capital, but authorities said that the burgeoning populations of animals are risked starvation and were chomping rare grass.

The Defense Department wants to hire professional shooters to cull the kangaroos - Australia's national symbol, which feature in the country's coat of arms - at two of its properties on the outskirts of Canberra.

Canberra's local administration, the Australian Capital Territory government, is expected to decide this week whether to approve the cull, government spokeswoman Yersheena Nichols said.

ACT Animal Liberation president Mary Hayes warned that the cull 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. radio.

Under the plan, 3,200 of the common eastern gray kangaroos, which can grow as big as a human, will be shot by July.

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.

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, government ecologist Don Fletcher said.

"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.

The Defense Department said in a statement that the 6,500 kangaroos at its two sites were not only threatening their own survival, they were destroying the habitat of threatened species including the Grassland Earless Dragon, Striped Legless Lizard and Golden Sun Moth.

The government said in a fact sheet on its Web site that the Canberra area contains the densest populations of kangaroos ever measured - more than 450 kangaroos per square kilometer (1,100 per square mile).

The final decision on the cull will be made by government official Russell Watkinson.

"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.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova