State considering a ban on kangaroo products
Amid the flurry of bills introduced in the current session of the Connecticut General Assembly is the Kangaroo Protection Act of 2023. The bill would prohibit the sale, barter or offering of dead kangaroos and any products derived from dead kangaroos within the state. The bill was referred to the Joint Committee on Commerce for consideration but so far does not appear on any of the committee’s agendas.
Still, the bill begs the question: Why is protecting kangaroos an issue in Connecticut?
“The kangaroo industry in Australia engages in the largest commercial slaughter of land-based wild animals in the world,” said state Rep. David Michel, D-Stamford. He said he introduced the bill as part of his role as the co-chair of the Animal Advocacy Caucus. “Each year, around 2 million wild kangaroos are gunned down in their native habitat to primarily provide their skins to Nike and Adidas to manufacture under-performing cleats.”
If the billl were enacted, Connecticut would be the second state, following California, to ban the sale of kangaroo carcasses and products. Connecticut is not alone in considering legislation like this either. Oregon, home of Nike, is weighing a similar ban.
A similar bill was also proposed in New Jersey and federally in 2021, but neither went anywhere. Across the Atlantic the Dutch Party for Animals is pushing the EU to ban the importation of kangaroo-based products. Historically, national bans have been discussed since the late 1980s.
“We traditionally don’t get involved in international issues,” said JoAnne Basile, executive director of CT Votes for Animals, who brought the issue to Michel’s attention. “But we have an opportunity to take action against what I consider a pipeline of cruelty coming into the state.”
Do we even use kangaroo products?
Most Americans probably have never considered kangaroos as a product or commodity. For most, they’re animals you might see in a zoo or in a nature documentary or a conservation organization’s TikTok being adorable.
But in Australia the commercialized hunting of kangaroos is big business. Between 1.5 million and 2 million kangaroos of the four most common species are killed every year. Up to one-fifth of a region’s estimated kangaroo population can be taken by hunters in a given season.
Kangaroo meat is processed into pet food or carved into steaks/at highend Aussie restaurants. Amazon, perhaps unsurprisingly, carries kangaroo meat. Their pelts are tanned into leather destined for expensive shoes and boots. Most of it ends up as high-end soccer cleats. A lot of it isn’t advertised as kangaroo. Some shoes made of it might be identified as “kleather.”
California, which has had a ban on kangaroo products since the 1970s has struggled to enforce the ban. A recent report from the Center for Humane Economy documents many shoe retailers stocking kangaroo-based products. Spokespeople from PUMA and Adidas insisted they comply with California laws and would comply with a ban in Connecticut.
“PUMA has taken steps to ensure compliance with all applicable law and does not currently sell kangaroo-based products to consumers or wholesale accounts in jurisdictions where the sale of such products is prohibited, such as California,” wrote Puma spokesperson Melissa Garbayo in an email to CT Insider. She asserted that Puma only used a small amount of kangaroo leather sourced from producers that follow Australia’s code of practices.
Adidas said kangaroo leather played a “minor role” in its manufacturing and that the company has been substituting kangaroo leather for other substances.
“Adidas is opposed to kangaroos being killed in an inhumane or cruel manner,” wrote Adidas spokesperson Rich Efus. “We will certainly adhere to all applicable legal regulations.”
Scott Edwards, chief counsel for the animal advocacy organization Center for Humane Economy, said that in spite of industry controls they were able to find k-leather cleats in California easily.
“Some of them are not even labeled at all, you sort of have to know the model of shoe,” Edwards said. “But generally people who go looking for them know what to look
Animal rights groups in the US and Australia have taken aim at the industry for hunting practices that they call cruel, unsustainable and unnecessary.
“It’s not like we need kangaroo cleats,” Edwards said. “It’s a niche, luxury product.”
The kangaroo shooters
Kangaroo hunting is conducted by a cottage industry of “shooters.” These independent hunter-contractors, or small businesses, are invited onto a landowner’s property in rural Australia to hunt kangaroos. The shooters are government-certified for their accuracy with firearms and regulated by the Australian government.
Four kangaroo species, the eastern and western grey kangaroo, the common wallaroo and the iconic red kangaroo are hunted. None of those species are considered endangered.
The Australian government and the kangaroo products industry claim that killing kangaroos this way is necessary to cull their numbers on the Australian landscape. Ranchers see kangaroos as competition for grazing livestock like sheep and cattle for food and water. They contend that kangaroos overgraze fields.
“The commercial industry doesn’t exist just because we want to sell meat and skins,” wrote Dennis King, executive officer of the Kangaroo Industry Association of
Australia. “There are too many of these abundance species, and we are a tool the Australian government uses to try and control those numbers.”
Shooters are supposed to take kangaroos down with shots to the head, instantly killing them. They’re also supposed to avoid killing mother kangaroos with joeys. In the event that a mother kangaroo is shot, the joey is supposed to be euthanized.
“Standard procedures for dealing with dependent young-at-foot can be found in the Code,” King wrote. “The industry does not target mothers with joeys.”
Most kangaroo hunts are conducted at night by spotlight when kangaroos are most active. These animals are agile and highly mobile. Grey kangaroos and red kangaroos are capable of attaining speeds of roughly 40 mph. Kangaroo advocates say the hunts are highly error prone and that many kangaroos are not killed in the proscribed way.
“They know that most animals are mis-shot and die from secondary trauma,” said McIntyre.
It’s common practice to decapitate kangaroo carcasses in the field, delivering headless carcasses for processing. This makes it very difficult to determine if a kangaroo was killed in the legal way.
“There is zero monitoring at the point of kill,” McIntyre said. “If you are so determined to show that this is a humane industry, leave the heads on
so we can see how the animal died.”
Joeys caught up in a hunt are killed by blunt force to the head. Documentary footage from "Kangaroos: A Love Hate Story" shows shooters swinging baby kangaroos by the tail, slamming their heads against truck beds. If they escape euthanasia they starve without their mothers. An inquest by the Parliament of New South Wales found that there was no reliable data on how many joeys were killed every year.
“It is a shame that we treat the joeys, the baby of our national icon, in such a cruel and barbaric way,” McIntyre said.
That same parliamentary inquest also found that the overall population data for those four kangaroo species was deeply flawed. It’s hard to say how many kangaroos are on the landscape. And the conduct of shooters is impossible to verify because there are no inspectors monitoring the point of kill.
Animal rights activists and conservationists say that this casts doubt on the sustainability of the kangaroo industry and the overall posture of the kangaroo cull as humane and necessary. These are charges that are flatly rejected by the kangaroo industry.
“We are calling out the misinformation being circulated around kangaroo management and the need for greater awareness of managing overabundant species,” wrote King, of the Kangaroo Industry
Association. “The industry is extremely confident in its robust standards of excellence in animal welfare, sustainability and food safety.”
Kangaroo industry is a legacy of pest management
Kangaroos have existed on the Australian continent for millions of years. Kangaroos and their wallaby cousins are highly adapted to dry climates with uncertain rainfall. Red kangaroos can go days without drinking, extracting most of the water they need from the plants they eat. During famines, female kangaroos can pause the development of embryos until conditions improve.
Their distinctive hopping is highly energy efficient. They make good use of this to escape extreme drought conditions. Mobs of kangaroos will descend on places that smell like water during drought.
Aboriginal peoples developed a close relationship with kangaroos. They relied on them as a food source and there is evidence that some Aboriginal peoples cultivated kangaroo habitat using controlled burns. They are sacred animals to many Aboriginal peoples.
When white settlers arrived, kangaroos were at first a novelty and a symbol of tough, outback independence. They too hunted kangaroos for food. But the growth of the ranching industry quickly recast kangaroos as a pest and competitor to nonnative sheep and cattle.