Animal-welfare groups are hopping mad at the US Interior Department, which has announced that it plans to open permanently the US market to kangaroo meat and skins. Activists say the killing of kangaroos could lead to their extinction , and they want President Reagan to ban imports.
''The cruel massacre of millions of kangaroos across Australia makes Canada's seal hunt look like a picnic,'' said Marian Newman, president of the Kangaroo Protection Foundation.
The Interior Department defended its decision, and the Australian government defended its treatment of kangaroos.
''Our experts agree that unless there is control of the population size, they will endanger their own survival and the survival of other species,'' said an Australian Embassy spokesman.
However, one Australian kangaroo specialist told Interior Department officials last month that the number of kangaroos in Australia may have dropped from between 30 million and 60 million two years ago to fewer than 10 million because of a recent drought.