Is There Kangaroo in Your Shoes?

US campaign hopes to ban import of kangaroo products.

kangaroo in Australia
A kangaroo in Australia. Image from Scott Gibbons / Getty Images

Animal rights groups and legislators are joining forces to attempt to ban the importation of kangaroo products into the United States.

The Kangaroo Protection Act (H.R. 917) would prohibit the sale of all kangaroo body parts. The bill was introduced in February by U.S. Representatives Salud Carbajal, a Democrat from California, and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania.

In introducing the legislation, Carbajal said, "Commercial shooters kill roughly two million wild kangaroos a year to profit from the trade in their skins, despite the availability of alternative fabrics that are of similar or better quality. While California has banned the sale of kangaroo products, enforcement of this inhumane practice is lacking.”

A coalition of animal rights groups including SPCA International and Animal Wellness Action has launched a campaign called “Kangaroos Are Not Shoes” where they point out that two million kangaroos are killed in Australia each year. Their skins are used to make many products including soccer cleats by major manufacturers including Nike and Adidas. The meat is often used for pet food.

The coalition calls it “the world’s largest commercial slaughter of terrestrial wildlife,” and asks “Why kill the beloved Australian icon?” when Americans protect bald eagles, New Zealand protects kiwi birds, and China protects giant pandas.

“The killing is occurring on a staggering scale; the kill is ten times larger than the infamous slaughter of baby seals in Atlantic Canada at its zenith 15 years ago,” Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy, tells Treehugger.

“And it’s important to note that the two million figure is just the commercial component of the slaughter. There’s a small amount of recreational hunting of kangaroos, but farmers and ranchers kill another 2 million kangaroos a year, so the body count is more than double the number you mentioned.”

Pacelle said the primary product for kangaroo skins are soccer cleats. He says his group has found more than 70 models from nine manufacturers that are sold to U.S. shoppers as “k-leather.” Other products can include motorcycle wear, hiking boots, and purses.

“It’s important to note that athletic shoe makers produce soccer cleat models that do not use any kangaroo leather or any other animal product,” Pacelle points out. “Innovation has made animal products entirely unnecessary and the kangaroo-skin shoes are a hold-over from an earlier generation of marketing and manufacturing.”

Pacelle says he is confident about the bill's chances of becoming law. But whether or not the law is passed, it could prompt companies to remove kangaroo materials from their products to avoid a backlash.

Reactions from Australia

The commercial kangaroo industry is worth more than $200 million to the Australian economy, so many industry leaders are against the proposed legislation.

“The recent Bill introduced to the US Congress is misguided because no threatened species of kangaroos are commercially harvested in Australia nor are kangaroos harvested for their skins alone,” said Dennis King, executive officer of the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia, in a statement. The KIAA represents the commercial kangaroo industry.

“Australia has one of the most regulated and humanely managed wildlife management programs in the world," King said. "State governments manage the populations of six abundant species as a conservation measure and, without a commercial industry, conservation culling would still continue.”

The KIAA points out that kangaroo meat has one-third the carbon footprint of beef and the skins are turned into viable products instead of ending up in a landfill.

As part of the campaign, animal rights advocates have also asserted that kangaroo killings are often done in a savage manner.

Australia’s Agriculture Minister David Littleproud appeared on 4BC, a news/talk radio station in Brisbane, and disputed these claims.

“[It’s] an outrageous lie, and one that slurs on the standing of the industry and farmers themselves,” he said. “Animal cruelty is not accepted by Australian farmers … in any way, shape, or form.”

Littleproud added, “What these animal activists forget is what is a crueler death, … [is] that we have many kangaroos, particular in drought, dying of starvation.”

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  4. Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy