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Late Crocodile Hunter's Family Urges China Not to Eat Australia's Kangaroos

The father of the late Australian conservationist Steve Irwin has urged China not to start importing kangaroo meat, warning it could wipe out huge numbers of the iconic animal.

Bob Irwin made his plea after Australia's kangaroo industry began seeking buyers in Asia after Russia barred kangaroo meat imports.

Russia was the main market for the Australian kangaroo trade, accounting for about 70 percent of international demand. Earlier this year Moscow included kangaroo in a ban on meat imports from several countries because of concerns of bacterial contamination.

As a result, Australian exporters have turned their attention to China.

Australian producers expect to start exporting to China in the first half of next year.

The move has angered conservationists.

Bob Irwin, whose late son Steve was a television celebrity known internationally as the Crocodile Hunter, thinks that Australia's kangaroos are endangered.

Irwin says exports to China could be devastating to a vulnerable species.

"Our kangaroos are in a position at the moment where you would describe their numbers as critical, I believe," he said. "We are just trying to get the message across to China that it is definitely not necessary to eat kangaroo meat. It is unhygienic for a start and we would not eat their pandas, mate, so why should they eat our kangaroos?"

Despite the concerns of conservationists, senior members of the Australian government have been lobbying their Chinese counterparts to drum up support for kangaroo exports.

Official estimates suggest there are 25 million kangaroos across Australia - more than one marsupial for every person, although conservationists argue that numbers are far lower.

The government allows professional marksmen to kill about 15 percent of the population each year.

Kangaroo meat is available in Australian supermarkets, although domestic demand is hampered by a certain squeamishness about eating an iconic animal.

The kangaroo is Australia's national symbol and it appears on the country's coat of arms and on some of its bank notes.