Australian officials try to get the jump on kangaroo population

The Australian government has bowed to international conservationist pressure and reduced the number of kangaroos that can be legally killed in 1984 to just under 2 million. This is 1.1 million less than the ''cull'' quota for 1983.

The federal minister for home affairs and the environment, Barry Cohen, who announced the new quota last week, said the new lower quota was due to the fact that there had been a reduction in the kangaroo population. This reduction had been caused by the recent nationwide drought which had lasted for four years in some Australian states.

He put the present kangaroo population at more than 21 million, the same level as in 1979, but some conservation groups claim there are only 14 million kangaroos.

While announcing the new lower quota, Cohen strongly attacked international conservation groups who have been campaigning for a complete ban on the killing of Australian kangaroos. He accused those groups of ''hypocrisy, distortion, deceit and evil.'' He said some groups, particularly in the US and Britain, tried to give the impression ''that we are a bunch of bloodthirsty animals going around biting the heads of kangaroos.''

He said some groups, and he seemed concerned mainly with the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Greenpeace, ''tried to give the impression that Australians are a barbarous people. . . .''

He said, ''experience has shown that the controlled harvesting of prolific species of kangaroos is necessary if the livelihood of country people is not to be jeopardized.''

Mr. Cohen quoted a recent statement by the New South Wales Royal Zoological Society which said kangaroos could cause agricultural and pastoral problems when numbers become high, including crop and fence damage, and competition with livestock for fodder in times of drought.

Asked whether he had ever been shooting kangaroos, Mr. Cohen said ''I've been watching kangaroos at nighttime, but I personally couldn't kill anything. I couldn't put a bullet through anything - well, there are a couple of exceptions, but they are not animals.''

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