Washington, August 24 : A new study has suggested that replacing much of Australia's beef and veal with kangaroo meat could significantly cut the continent's greenhouse gas emissions and save its native terrain.
According to a report in National Geographic News, the study suggests phasing out some 7 million cattle and 36 million sheep from Australian rangelands-semiarid land that doesn't naturally produce the grass that grazing animals require-and replacing them with kangaroos.
"Because of their unique gut microbes, kangaroos emit much less methane than sheep and cattle," said lead author George Wilson, of Canberra consultancy Australian Wildlife Services.
Sheep and cattle are responsible for about 11 percent of Australian agricultural emissions, according to a government survey.
Each cow produces 1.84 metric tons of greenhouse gas equivalents a year, and each sheep gives off more than 300 pounds (140 kilograms).
Kangaroos, meanwhile, emit less than seven pounds (three kilograms) of greenhouse gases. Under the study's proposal, that could translate into savings of 16 million tons of greenhouse gases annually-or 3 percent of Australia's total emissions. Wilson estimated some 30 million kangaroos (including red kangaroos) already roam Australia's rangelands, where farmers typically regard them as pests.
His proposal calls for the rangelands to be filled with five or six times that number. According to Wilson, the animals would become an asset to farmers, if Australia includes agriculture-the sector that emits the most methane and nitrous oxide-in its Emissions Trading Scheme, a system the government is devising to impose charges on greenhouse polluters.
The government hopes to implement the scheme by 2010, but says it will not include agricultural emissions for another five years at least because of the difficulty in measuring them.
Wilson said that the emissions saved by raising kangaroos could be worth about 650 million Australian dollars, based on current European carbon prices.
The impact would be strongest if livestock owners were required to purchase carbon permits to keep raising cattle and sheep, although such a scheme is far from being determined.
"If we let the kangaroo population rise to 175 million by 2020, farmers could be earning the same amount of money as they would be from cattle without that charge," said Wilson.