Most Australians welcome the fact that the kangaroo (considered the national animal) is used both for food and for making accessories. Supermarket shelves are stocked with kangaroo meat, and the kangatarianism – a diet that excludes all meat except kangaroos, due to the low fat content and non-industrial rearing of these mammals – has become an alternative diet.
Specialty retailers display a variety of kangaroo leather belts, wallets and purses, while in souvenir shops, purses made from the animal’s scrotum are a gift option for those who have everything.
So the decision by sports giants like Nike and Puma to discontinue the use of kangaroo leather in sneakers has raised eyebrows in Australia. The announcement comes after state and federal lawmakers in the United States (US) made efforts to ban the sale of kangaroo products.
Nike will eliminate gradually the material known as “leather k” until 2023, the company said this week. The boots will be made with a synthetic material. This announcement follows Puma’s announcement two weeks ago that it would replace kangaroo leather with a partially recycled material called k-better.
Both Nike and Puma did not clarify whether they were doing away with kangaroo leather due to animal welfare concerns. However, these companies, along with Adidas, were the target of a campaign entitled Kangaroos are not shoessponsored by the US-based Center for a Human Economy (CHE).
Asked if Adidas also has plans to eliminate kangaroo leather, spokesman Stefan Pursche said that this material “plays a minor role and is significantly under 1%” [de utilização]since the company has managed to “replace kangaroo leather with other innovative materials in many products”.
A federal bill to ban the sale of kangaroo products in the US was introduced in 2021 by Democrat Representative Salud Carbajal (elected from California) and Republican Brian Fitzpatrick (Pennsylvania). Similar diplomas have been introduced in Oregon – where Nike is headquartered – Arizona, Connecticut, Vermont and New Jersey, CHE said this month. But California is the only state that has banned the sale of the material.
Wayne Pacelle, president of CHE, said in a statement that the announcement was “a seismic event in wildlife protection”what “would bring relief to these iconic marsupials”. (Pacelle resigned to the position of executive director of the organization in 2018, following accusations of sexual harassment disclosed by the The Washington Post; the official denied the allegations.)
But the view Australians have of kangaroos is quite different.
Die by bullet or starvation?
Kangaroos are killed in the wild, not bred in captivity. The Australian government estimated in 2021 that there were over 30 million leaping marsupials – more than Australia’s human population of around 26 million. Commercial industry, which can kill about 15% of the most abundant species annually, has had no impact on the total number of kangaroos in the wild, researchers at the University of New South Wales in Kensington, Australia, said in 2015.
Kangaroos are more numerous now than they were before British colonization, notes Gordon Grigg, emeritus professor of zoology at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Since 1788, sheep and cattle herders have transformed swathes of the mainland into exactly the type of kangaroo’s preferred habitat, clearing land and building dams. At the same time, these breeders drastically reduced dingoes (canis lupus dingo), wild dogs that constitute the main predator of the kangaroo.
Kangaroos are often seen on golf courses at dusk outside of Australian cities, and occasionally they even try to play a bit of football: in 2018, one of these animals entered the field during a Premier League game and even lay down. in front of the goalkeeper’s zone.
In lean years, however, millions of kangaroos starve to death, says Grigg. These populations thrive in the rain and decline during severe periods of hydrological drought. The academic is in favor of slaughter and a commercial industry – a dominant view among ecologists, he says.
“This is the country of periodic droughts, which can often be very long, and that was before we started talking about climate change”says Grigg. “An animal shot without knowing the danger is much better than an animal that spends days, weeks, dying.”
Euan Ritchie, professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at Deakin University, says he would be concerned if kangaroos weren’t caught more.
“It’s horrible when kangaroos get too high, they graze too much,” says Ritchie. “We end up seeing horrific images of kangaroos dying of starvation in landscapes that are practically devoid of vegetation.” Kangaroos also take food sources away from other native species, sometimes threatened with extinction, when baby marsupial populations grow too high.
“The commercial industry is cruel”
Animal rights organizations say, however, that the commercial industry is cruel. campaign members Kangaroos are not shoesreleased in January 2020, bought billboards in Nike’s birth state, Oregon, they met with US lawmakers, organized a petition and protested outside Nike stores.
Environmentalists point out that young are removed from marsupial pouches when the mothers are shot and then shot in the head. This is, moreover, the practice recommended by the Australian government itself, since it is seen as the most humane. Hundreds of thousands of calves die during commercial hunting seasons each year, either from intentional head injuries or starvation after their mothers die, reveals a 2009 report commissioned by Animal Liberation NSW.
Animal Liberation NSW Executive Director Lynda Stoner says Nike and Puma’s decision could set a precedent for other major companies to also move away from kangaroo leather. Animal rights advocates and other organizations dispute official and industry data on the number of kangaroos in the country, claiming that the methodology used is wrong and exaggerated.
“These animals are beautiful, sociable, family-oriented and iconic – we need to protect them,” says Lynda Stoner.
The koala example
Kangaroo leather has long been used in sportswear, in particular for football boots. It has also been the target of animal welfare campaigns. Almost 20 years ago, after watching a video of cubs being slaughtered, British soccer star David Beckham stopped wearing Adidas boots that used kangaroo leather as the material.
Only in recent years, however, have major companies decided to stop using the material. In the fashion world, Prada, Versace, Chanel and H&M are among the brands that have ditched kangaroo leather, according to PETA.
John Read, an ecologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, confesses that he is “frustrating” legislators and businesses in the US and Europe to make decisions that affect the Australian environment in light of national expert opinion.
The researcher co-authored a statement calling for managing the kangaroo population through a commercial approach, along with eight wildlife scientists and 25 organizations dedicated to conservation, agriculture or Aboriginal culture by 2022.
lynda Stoner of Animal Liberation NSW however pointed out that it was a US President who helped save another iconic Australian animal – the koala. Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, made the decision to ban the import of koala fur nearly a century ago.
“Maybe America needs to save our kangaroos too”endslynda Stoner.