The horror of Australia aflame in 2019 and 2020 has itself sparked a movement to help kangaroos, the iconic animals who serve as mascots for the continent and are a captivating draw for visitors from throughout the world.
Kangaroos are the victims of unmatched exploitation of wild animals in their native habitat. Private and commercial hunters kill over two million kangaroos a year, including bludgeoning any joeys found near or in the pouches of their slain mothers. After the unsellable body parts are cast aside, the skins are used in athletic shoes and other leather goods while the industry that conducts the slaughter strains to find markets for the meat, used mainly as pet food.
The wildfires that charred the soil and climbed into the canopies of the trees — a vertical and horizontal razing of ecosystems — didn’t just hurt “Australia.” The fires swallowed up the plants and forests and burned animals. The frightening and apocalyptic scene vividly dramatized that fire — a needed element to forge the cleansing and renewal of ecosystems — had morphed into a life-obliterating, runaway inferno.
One prominent Queensland scientist estimates more than a billion animals died. Flames easily outpaced the arboreal koalas, but even kangaroos often could not outrun the fire. This being Australia, a broad range of unique and iconic animals suffered: dingos, emus, platypuses, wombats, possums, long-footed potoroos, silver-headed antechinus, regent honey-eaters, and sugar gliders.
Where was Noah when we needed him?
If you don’t think climate change is an animal protection issue, wake up and smell the embers.
Kangaroos had it tough even before the fires, being subjected to the largest commercial killing of land-based wildlife in the world. This carnage is organized, subsidized and promoted by the Australian government, which sets an annual kill quota of nearly 5 million kangaroos.
The government’s unenforceable “National Code of Practice for Commercial Killing” encourages shooters to kill kangaroos with a single lethal shot to the brain. A few problems present themselves: The dark. The distance. The fleeing. The kangaroos’ small heads.
The “Code” dictates best practices for handling the joeys, whether in the pouch or “at foot”, by administering “a blow to the head delivered with force sufficient to crush the skull and destroy the brain.” Swinging the joey by his legs into a truck bumper or rock seems to do the trick as often as not.
The tropes put forward by the government to justify the hunts — shooters are trained, the hunt is humane, kangaroos compete with cattle — are deconstructed in Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story, the searing documentary by Australian filmmakers Mick McIntyre and Kate McIntyre Clere. It is a must-see for anyone trying to grasp how a nation that puts the kangaroo on its national coat-of-arms and dollar coins puts the same animal in the crosshairs of rifle scopes. That’s as mind bending as a Beckham corner kick.
Since pastoralists set us on a new course for sustaining us, kangaroo meat has not been a significant part of the Australian diet, if it ever was. Notorious for harboring pathogens, kangaroo meat is banned in Russia, Belgium, and countless supermarkets around the world.
It’s really the athletic shoe companies, chiefly the Nike and adidas brands, that drive the commercial kill.
“This [soccer shoe] industry is vital to the kangaroo industry,” said a spokesman for the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia. “Without it underpinning kangaroo skin prices, the entire industry would be at risk.” Soccer cleats are the signature product made from kangaroos.
If soccer shoppers stopped buying “k-leather” models (as kangaroo skin is euphemistically called), Nike wouldn’t be doing business with the commercial ecosystem that’s disassembling the marsupials. The shooters. The processing plants. The tanneries. The skin exporters. You can see this sad progression played out on the bottom of the opening page.
The Center for a Humane Economy has identified 56 models of kangaroo-skin soccer shoes available to American shoppers from adidas, Lotto, Mizuno, New Balance, Nike, Pantofola d’oro, Puma, Umbro and Under Armour. Our ‘No Buy List’ of kangaroo skin soccer shoes is available for download and we hope it will be carried into soccer retailers to guide purchasing decisions and start conversations.
Nike and adidas must shed the skins. The state of California forbids the sale of kangaroo cleats. Diadora, the Italian sportswear brand, will stop using kangaroo (by the end of 2020).
While kangaroo skin was cutting-edge when introduced by Puma in 1970, today it’s a relic. As one of the world’s most well-known experts tells us, most cleats today are synthetic, with break-through materials fashioned into mesh and knit or even fake kangaroo skin, like Nike’s Kanga-Lite or adidas’ HybridTouch. The polyester in many of the shoes comes from recycled plastic including water bottles and reclaimed ocean plastic. The industry’s excitement is with new compounds coming from the labs, not the Outback.
Both Nike and adidas have embraced the mantra of sustainability. But they can breathe more life into those claims by reimagining their companies’ relationship with kangaroos. Their connection to this grisly trade puts a low ceiling on any of their claims about being a good corporate citizen.
Some months ago, at a time when the world was grieving for kangaroos surrounded by flames that engulfed their homes, many Americans thousands of miles away wanted to help. While catching a flight to Australia to volunteer at a wildlife rescue organization wasn’t an option for most, there was and still is a way to help reduce the risks to kangaroos: Pledge never to purchase soccer shoes (or any product) made from kangaroo skin and help us win this campaign. It’s a minor preference for people shopping for shoes, but it’s a matter of life and death for the kangaroos.