Kangaroos Unsafe in the Outback

Australia's own wildlife is killed in record numbers

The kangaroo is the most famous symbol of the "land down under," but Australia is not doing its part to protect its greatest animal celebrity. Kangaroos are a mere commodity; Australia exports 3 million of their skins each year to be made into Adidas soccer shoes, golf gloves and other sporting goods marked as "K leather." Their meat is marketed as a gourmet delicacy, but it is realistically most often made into pet food. Viewed by the country's government as a "renewable resource," kangaroos are given virtually no protection under Australian law. A death quota in the millions is set for them each year, and six species are indeed already extinct. Others, such as the red kangaroo, are declining rapidly.

The marsupial many local farmers unfairly deem a "pest" faces unthinkable brutality. Hunters routinely blind kangaroos with bright spotlights, freezing them in place to make them easier targets. In addition to being furtively tracked and killed in the immense outback, their still-dependent young are often pointless casualties. Whenever a female kangaroo is killed, her joeys are decapitated or abandoned.

But this is not the only way hunters disrupt the structure of the animals' society. They often kill the fittest males, leaving female kangaroos less options for mating. The result is a weakened gene pool and a generally younger, smaller species; the average age of a red kangaroo, for example, is 2-years-old, whereas less than half a century ago it was 12, the Vegetarians International Voice for Animals has reported. The government has convinced the Australian people that kangaroo herds are in "plague proportions," but their current population of about 20 million is less than half of what it was only three years ago. "In a recent survey of overseas visitors, one quarter of people surveyed didn't see the wild kangaroos they wanted to," commented Pat O'Brien, president of the Wildlife Protection Association of Australia.

Kangaroos already have to deal with the stress of the droughts and wildfires in their country, and yet thousands are killed by hunters each year. Many are merely injured by bad shots, then left to die in agony by irresponsible people who do not care about the animals' welfare. Australia is sending a very mixed message by continuing to promote the kangaroo as an emblem of its country, yet permitting—and even encouraging—shockingly inhumane treatment of this animal. However, convincing proponents of kangaroo culling to believe this argument is difficult. "Adidas is the biggest threat to kangaroos, and it refuses to listen to any arguments against using the skins—because they are cheap," O'Brien said.

Over half of the mammal extinctions in the past two centuries have occurred in Australia, and some kangaroo species could be next on this country's list. Like many animals before it, the kangaroos' numbers have made it a target—recall the story of the passenger pigeon if you believe they are not worth protecting, and look at the red kangaroo today to see culling's effects. AWI asks our readers to please avoid purchasing kangaroo meat, leather and Adidas products. Please write Australian Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell at Parliament House, Canberra, ACT, Australia 2600. Be sure to let him know the killing of kangaroos and the trade of their skins and meat will not be tolerated!

photos: Wildlife Protection Assn. of Australia