updated 5/24/2007 12:44:46 PM ET 2007-05-24T16:44:46

Animal rights campaigners fighting a proposal to shoot more than 3,000 kangaroos outside the capital claimed a partial victory Thursday when an official revealed that alternatives on dealing with the burgeoning population were also being considered.

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The Defense Department plans to hire professional shooters to cull the kangaroos — Australia’s national symbol — at two of its properties on the outskirts of Canberra.

The department argues that an estimated 6,500 common eastern gray kangaroos on the sites risked starvation and were eating through the grassy habitats of endangered species, and it has applied to Canberra’s local administration for licenses to kill 3,200 of the marsupials.

But the department canceled a meeting Friday to discuss the cull with animal welfare groups, saying in an e-mail Thursday that such a meeting was “probably premature.”

Kangaroo 'management'
“Defense is still considering the available options for kangaroo management at both sites,” Defense regional manager Larry Robbins wrote to animal welfare groups Thursday, without revealing any specifics.

The department declined to immediately comment to The Associated Press.

The news was welcomed by Pat O’Brien, president of Wildlife Protection Association of Australia, which has as its patrons the family of the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin.

The local government has yet to approve the shooting licenses.

The proposed cull has been widely condemned as lazy and outdated wildlife management.

Leading animal ethicist Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University, said the cull was “not ethically justifiable” because the kangaroos were not starving or in great distress.

'Sentient beings'
“Kangaroos are sentient beings who can enjoy their lives,” Singer told AP. “As long as they can do so, it is better to let them continue to live.”

Veterinarian Hugh Wirth and former president of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, said culling of kangaroos was necessary because European settlers had created conditions in which their numbers had flourished like never before.

Farmers had extended the range of the eastern gray by digging wells for livestock in arid regions, created extra food by growing crops and destroyed its major predator, the dingo, a native dog that also kills lambs.

But Wirth said culling should be a continuous process.

“They should have been controlling the population long ago,” Wirth said of the authorities. “They can’t fix months and months, in fact, years of neglect in one all mighty kill — that’s a slaughter, not a cull.”

“Of course it triggers public outrage, and justifiably so,” he said.

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