Animal activists have vowed to keep watch over kangaroos living near the Melbourne Market in Epping after 22 kangaroos were killed in a recent cull.

The Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources ordered a cull at the site bounded by the Hume Freeway, Cooper Street and Edgars and Deveny roads on August 25.

A department spokesman said 22 land-locked eastern grey kangaroos were killed.

He said the kangaroos were suffering from a number of health conditions.

“The culled animals had evidence of injury, starvation, and symptoms of diseases, including lesions, lumpy jaw and parasite infestation,” the spokesman said.

“Prior assessment of the kangaroos showed that the population was suffering due to a lack of feed, which is continuing to decline and lead to health and welfare impacts.”

The department was forced to end the cull early after activists entered the site.

Australian Society for Kangaroos president Nikki Sutterby said the department should be relocating the kangaroos instead of killing them.

She said development in the area had destroyed the kangaroos’ habitat and left them with nowhere else to go.

Ms Sutterby said there were previous examples of kangaroos being successfully relocated.

“We have a responsibility to protect them and give them a second chance at life. Why didn’t the government move them years ago?” she said. “We will be there for a long time. People know about the kangaroos and are concerned about them. We have teams there patrolling around.”

But the department’s spokesman said the kangaroos had been monitored monthly for the past seven years and could not be relocated because of their deteriorating health, the stress associated with handling and the risk of spreading disease to other populations.

He said the kangaroos were also a threat to the safety of the community, regularly wandering on to nearby roads, where they have been killed by traffic.