IMAGE: KANGAROOS IN PEN
Mark Graham  /  AP
Kangaroos at abandoned military property near Canberra, Australia, are held in a pen Tuesday before being euthanized.
updated 5/20/2008 12:31:40 PM ET 2008-05-20T16:31:40

An animal rights activist threatened "direct action" to stop the killing of 400 kangaroos because of overpopulation in Australia's capital after two protesters unsuccessfully tried to disrupt the cull Tuesday.

The slaughter that began Monday at an abandoned military site in suburban Canberra has divided Australians on the merits of a mass killing of an iconic animal featured in Australia's coat of arms.

About 600 kangaroos live at the site, and scientists say their growing population threatens their own survival, as well as that of endangered native species of reptiles and insects.

"It was the day Australia's national emblem was relegated to cold storage," Sydney's The Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday, describing kangaroo carcasses being packed into portable refrigerators to be buried later.

Wildlife Protection Association of Australia president Pat O'Brien said Tuesday he and other protesters planned to intervene overnight Tuesday or Wednesday if the killing continued.

"It's an inhumane blood bath and we've got some direct action planned," O'Brien said outside the eight-foot high wire fence that surrounds the 320-acre site. He declined to elaborate.

Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett described the cull Tuesday as a "regrettable last option," but said it was necessary.

Two protesters broke into the site Tuesday and "frightened and agitated" a "small number of kangaroos" that had been sedated as part of fertility experiments, defense spokesman Brigadier Andrew Nikolic said in a statement.

Defense officials refused to comment Tuesday on how many kangaroos had so far been killed in a cull that is expected to take two to three weeks.

IMAGE: KANGAROO TRIES TO LEAP TO FREEDOM
Graham Tidy  /  AFP-Getty Images
A kangaroo makes a futile leap for freedom before being tranquilized and then euthanized with a lethal injection in Canberra on Tuesday.
Michael Linke, of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said Tuesday his organization was monitoring the cull and inspectors at the site Monday found animal welfare standards were met.

"A lot of people have been saying that the kangaroos have been a little bit stressed and there's some concern about the tranquilizing phase," Linke told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

But he said moving the kangaroos from the site would have also caused tremendous stress. "It's the only option" for the Defense Ministry, Linke said of the cull.

Defense last week dismissed the live transportation option as too expensive at $3.3 million — or $8,200 per animal.

O'Brien said his association — whose patrons are the family of the late "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin — was appealing for public donations to fund the relocation of the surviving kangaroos. He dismissed Defense's cost estimate as "ridiculous," but did not have his own estimate.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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