Evaluation of a spring-powered captive bolt gun for killing kangaroo pouch young
Context: During commercial harvesting or non-commercial kangaroo culling programs, dependent young of shot females are required to be euthanased to prevent suffering and because they would be unlikely to survive. However, the current method for killing pouch young, namely a single, forceful blow to the base of the skull, is applied inconsistently by operators and perceived by the public to be inhumane. Aims: To determine whether an alternative method for killing pouch young, namely a spring-operated captive bolt gun, is effective at causing insensibility in kangaroo pouch young. Methods: Trials of spring-operated captive bolt guns were conducted first on the heads of 15 dead kangaroo young and then on 21 live pouch young during commercial harvesting. We assessed the effectiveness at causing insensibility in live animals and damage caused to specific brain areas. We also measured depth of bolt penetration and skull thickness. Performance characteristics (e.g. bolt velocity) of two types of spring-operated guns were also measured and compared with cartridge-powered devices. Key results: When tested on the heads of dead animals, the spring-operated captive bolt gun consistently produced a large entrance cavity and a well defined wound tract, which extended into the cerebrum, almost extending the full thickness of the brain, including the brainstem. When tested on live pouch young, the captive bolt gun caused immediate insensibility in only 13 of 21 animals. This 62% success rate is significantly below the 95% minimum acceptable threshold for captive bolt devices in domestic animal abattoirs. Failure to stun was related to bolt placement, but other factors such as bolt velocity, bolt diameter and skull properties such as thickness and hardness might have also contributed. Spring-operated captive bolt guns delivered 20 times less kinetic energy than did cartridge-powered devices. Conclusions: Spring-operated captive bolt guns cannot be recommended as an acceptable or humane method for stunning or killing kangaroo pouch young. Implications: Captive bolt guns have potential as a practical alternative to blunt head trauma for effective euthanasia and reducing animal (and observer) distress. However, operators must continue to use the existing prescribed killing methods until cartridge-powered captive bolt guns have been trialled as an alternative bolt propelling method.