If you ask the average American what they know of Australia, they might mention the Sydney Opera House, didgeridoos, boomerangs, the Great Barrier Reef, the Outback, and, of course, Australia’s iconic wildlife, including crocodiles, koalas, and kangaroos. The kangaroo, whose stylized silhouette is the symbol of Quantas Airways, who is the mascot of many of the country’s athletic teams, and whose image is featured in Australia’s tourism promotions, may be the world’s most recognizable animal ambassador.
What Americans may not know is that Australia’s biodiversity is collapsing as a result of relentless land clearing, climate change, wildfire severity, and invasive species, resulting in an extinction rate higher than that of any other country on the planet.
As for the kangaroo, each year millions of the animals are slaughtered. Under cover of darkness, hunters equipped with powerful spotlights mounted on trucks ruthlessly gun down these animals for the manufacture of pet food, leather products, and meat for human consumption.
What began as a cull to control kangaroos wrongly blamed for competing with livestock for grass has become a profit-driven commercial enterprise. As profits have grown, so have efforts by politicians to protect and promote the industry, by industry representatives to sell it as sustainable, and by bureaucrats and government scientists to ensure high kill quotas. The situation is chronicled in grim detail in the documentary Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story (see review on the following page).
The European Union is the leading importer of kangaroo products, according to the documentary, while China, Russia, and the state of California are seen by the Australian government as ripe for expanded export markets. In California, despite a concerted lobbying effort by the Australian government and the industry, a ban on the importation of kangaroo products was reinstated in 2016. The United States as a whole, however, remains the second largest market for such products.
An astonishing amount of wild kangaroo products flow into the country each year: In 2015 alone, according to US Fish and Wildlife Service data, the United States imported over 1.9 million pounds of meat, over 387,000 shoes, nearly 48,000 large leather products, close to 9,000 whole skins (nearly 27,000 square meters of whole skins or skin pieces), and over 12,000 pounds of bones. The meat is served in restaurants that feature exotic species or sold directly to consumers, while the skins are used to manufacture leather goods such as soccer cleats and goalkeeper gloves. According to 2014 data, the companies importing kangaroo products include household names such as Adidas, Louis Vuitton, Nike, Versace, BMW, Dolce & Gabbana, Under Armour, Ferragamo USA, and Giorgio Armani.
These companies’ complicity in this gruesome spectacle (not to mention that of the US government) should not go unchallenged. Consumers have the power to stop this cruel industry by refusing to purchase their products. If their bottom line starts to suffer as a result of compassionate choices made by consumers, they will rethink their use of kangaroo products and their role in the largest commercial slaughter of wildlife in the world.