(Corrects to make clear bullbars are not compulsory equipment, paragraph 7)
By David B Gray
CUNNAMULLA, Australia, Aug 29 (Reuters) - A road crew pulls their truck off the side of a lonely stretch of highway in Australia’s outback. One of them jumps from the vehicle and grabs a hook stained red with blood.
He plunges the hook into a kangaroo carcass and the truck drags it off the road, removing a hazard to motorists.
It’s a gory ritual the crew performs 50 to 60 times a day on the “roo run” - nearly 100 km (62 miles) of highway between the towns of Bourke and Enngonia in the state of New South Wales.
Kangaroos and emus, the two animals on Australia’s coat of arms, are common in this part of the outback and “roadkill” - the name given to animals hit by cars or trucks - is often littering the sides of roads.
Recent heavy rains have resulted in the normally dry, red soil giving way to an abundance of green grass and colourful flowers, and in turn led to a dramatic increase in the population of kangaroos and emus, the country’s largest bird.
A bounding adult kangaroo weighing up to 90 kg (198 lb) or a flightless adult emu in full stride at 48 kmh (30 mph) can cause serious, even fatal, road crashes.
Some drivers equip the front of their vehicles with metal “bullbars” to deflect the animals and minimise damage.
Airports are taking precautions too.
Bourke’s town council ordered “roo runs” ahead of night landings after a Royal Flying Doctor Service plane collided with a kangaroo in August as the aircraft was trying to land.
The kangaroo had burrowed under the airport security fencing in search of fresh green grass to eat, the council said on its website last Friday.
“Fortunately, no one was injured, however, the plane did suffer damage to the propeller and motor and it was unable to be flown without repairs,” the council said.
Australian insurer AAMI said in April an analysis of 20,000 accident insurance claims showed New South Wales was the top state for animal collisions.
“Across all states, kangaroos are reportedly the most commonly hit animal, with four out of five claims attributed to kangaroos,” said AAMI spokesperson Ashleigh Paterson.
Wombats, cattle and wallabies are also among frequently hit animals, she added.
“Wildlife is unpredictable and can appear out of nowhere so it’s vital to be extra cautious, particularly in areas which high volumes of wildlife,” Paterson said.
Aside from posing a major danger to motorists, kangaroos compete with farm animals for feed and water, farmers complain.
Kahmoo Station, a cattle and sheep property on the outskirts of the southwest Queensland town of Cunnamulla, has seen an explosion of kangaroos and emus on the 80,000-acre (32,000-hectare) property, said farmer Tony Reid.
When he is driving in a paddock, just the sheer numbers makes it extremely difficult for him to avoid hitting a kangaroo.
Emus are a challenge too because “they are unpredictable and can be running away, but turn sharply back into your path”, he said. Fortunately they are lighter than kangaroos and cause less damage, Reid added.
The dry winter at Kahmoo Station this year means kangaroos and emus will seek fresh feed, and that usually means a roadside where the early morning dew creates fresh green shoots.
It also creates the conditions for more roadkill. (Editing by Michael Perry and Darren Schuettler)