Commercial shooters in multiple states in Australia – sanctioned by the government and acting as proxies for athletic shoe companies and pet food makers — execute a running slaughter of wild kangaroos in their native habitats.
The people involved in the industry are white people, yet key apologists for it offer up the specious argument that restricting the trade in kangaroo parts hurts Aboriginal peoples. Mind you First Nations people are absent in the executive ranks of the kangaroo industry, and few if any are involved as shooters, processors, or tanners.
Perhaps even more noteworthy, the features of the commercial enterprise are disconsonant with the virtues and traditions of Aboriginal peoples, as espoused in their oral traditions and creation stories, which include the narrative of kangaroos helping to form the valleys and other features of the natural landscape before these marsupials morphed into man. The kangaroo is “an important totem in Aboriginal culture,” wrote Max ‘Dulumunmun’ Harrison, an elder from the Yuin nation on the south coast of New South Wales. “[U]sing such an important and iconic totem for the pet food industry does not sit well with our beliefs and traditions and is seen by many as an insult to our culture.”
Another elder, Aunty Ro Mudyin from Flinders Island, Tasmania, says what angers her about the commercial kill is the “lack of understanding as to the importance of Kangaroo as the Creators of this Country.” She says kangaroos are “ancient story tellers, Sacred Totem Animals. They are the Creators of Spiritual Dreaming, and they must be treated with respect.”
“The colonialism that surrounds them and fuels their slaughter is sickening,” she adds.
The era of commercial slaughter is waning
This whole enterprise, when it comes to wildlife exploitation, is unique in its scale and inhumanity. The philosophy guiding contemporary wildlife management programs in the United States – where wildlife use is primarily for personal consumption and not commercial sale – came as a compensatory reaction to the late 19th– and early 20th-century slaughter of buffalo and other mammals for their hides, and birds for their feathers in the millinery trade. Through law and moral codes, there have been limits imposed on the killing of native wildlife and a credo that any slain wildlife must be utilized by the hunter or that person’s family. Trade in their body parts, with the notable exception of commercial trapping of some furbearing animals, is widely prohibited.
Indeed, the slaughter of bison and other wildlife more than a century ago, before states began to regulate wildlife use, was a moral, ecological, and cultural calamity. And to be sure, there was more to the liquidation of tens of millions of buffalo in short order than just clearing the Great Plains of wildlife to make way for cattle and sheep. The federal government enabled commercial exploitation to enrich the shooters, but also as a means of gutting and then starving native cultures in North America. It was a land grab, and commercial slaughter was anything but a jobs program for the Lakota or the Sioux. It was a strategic play enabling the expropriation of their lands.
The only contemporary spectacle that compares with the kangaroo slaughter in scale and the assault on juvenile animals is Canada’s assault on baby harp and hooded seals. There, men of European descent, as in Australia, do the shooting and the bludgeoning, almost entirely for export of their parts.
This seal “hunt” is so grisly and inhumane that many nations throughout the world now ban the trade. The U.S. has the longest-standing ban on seal skin imports, established under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Trade restrictions have been maintained despite the ongoing objections of federal and provincial governments in Canada. More recently, the European Union banned the trade, as did Mexico, Russia, and other nations.
With markets closures, the annual kill dropped from 300,000 seals to perhaps 20,000 today. The hunt persists at all because Canada’s government subsidizes it, trying to pry open foreign markets and even buying up pelts as a sort of life-support action.
The sealers haven’t been the only ones targeting newborn animals. After kangaroo shooters kill the adults, they are urged, under the government’s voluntary and unenforceable “National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Commercial Purposes,” to bludgeon any joeys found in the pouch or at the foot of their slain mothers. The toll is in the hundreds of thousands.
Indeed, closing foreign markets to kangaroo parts is precisely the purpose of the Kangaroo Protection Act, H.R. 917, introduced in Congress in February by U.S. Representatives Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn. The U.S. is the second biggest market in the world for kangaroo-based soccer cleats made by Nike, Adidas, Puma, and other athletic shoe brands. And animal advocates are promoting a similar sales ban in the EU, the world’s largest market for this footwear.
The trade in skins fuels the kangaroo killing, but the sale of the meat supplements the profits. Yet the meat is suspect because the harvesting process violates any normal set of controls for food safety. On a typical night in the Outback, commercial shooters, using spotlights and night-vision scopes, kill 40-50 animals. Shooters butcher the carcasses in the field and hang them on the hooks in their rear of their vehicles. With the bodies flayed and the shooters on the look-out for mobs of kangaroos at multiple sites, the carcasses are magnets for bacteria, flies, insects and even dried cattle feces. When the shooters are done for the night, after several hours, they transfer their catch to a field chiller. The rotting bodies go to a processing facility days later. It can be no surprise that a great amount of the meat goes for pet food, rather than human consumption.
It may rival, as a matter of food safety, the shooters roaming the roads and scooping up road-killed animals. In the field, there’s no controlled environment, no buffer against the decomposition process immediately after shooting, and no oversight of their handling of the animals.
Demonizing wildlife and creating sacred cows
The commercial wildlife industry has a financial stake in attempting to cast kangaroos as super-abundant marauders. It’s the same playbook we’ve seen with seals, wolves, grizzly bears, and other native species perceived as threats to fishing, ranching, or other extractive industries.
Let’s remember the modern kangaroo dates back a million or more years. They survived the Pleistocene epoch (the “ice age”) and the introduction of dogs thousands of years ago. They inhabited Australian landscapes long before we did and are exquisitely adapted to them. Their populations have always been limited by food availability and environmental conditions. Their foraging behaviors do not compare with the devastating impacts that exotic cattle and sheep have on riparian areas and rangelands.
The government of Australia and the kangaroo killing industry have turned logic and ecology on their head. They falsely argue their domesticated farm animals have primary claims on the land – and the kangaroos are the invaders. They impute that Aboriginal peoples have a desire to engage in commercial slaughter of their totem animal, when their songlines and traditions say precisely the opposite.
More and more Australians are seeing through the hysteria and false framing of their agriculture ministers, the sheep and cattle barons, and the shooters. They rightly recognize a synchronized smear when they see it. The whole kangaroo-killing complex, financed by the executives at Nike and Adidas, is on borrowed time. It can no longer measure up to modern-day wildlife protection norms, it cannot explain away the unobserved bludgeoning of joeys, and it cannot meet the test of necessity when innovations in athletic shoe materials and design make the whole enterprise look like a foolish whim.