Kangaroo Conspiracy? The illegal selling of kangaroo leather shoes in California

True Crime

MYSTERY WIRE — Wildfires have scorched millions of acres in the American southwest and in Australia. By some estimates, the fires in Australia killed 3 billion animals this year alone.

But there is another ongoing threat that some people call the ‘Kangaroo Conspiracy’ involving Australian hunters who slaughter kangaroos on an industrial scale.

“Kangaroos and their many species are native species. They belong in Australia,” Animal Wellness Action founder Wayne Pacelle told Mystery Wire. “They’ve been in Australia for thousands and thousands of years. They’ve evolved with the landscape. They do very little damage to the landscape. Some of this kind of smearing of the kangaroos, if you will, is an effort by ranchers and others to just have an open playing field and do whatever they want. Kangaroos, some are somewhat abundant, others are endangered. The reality is the fires killed millions of them. Now commercial hunters are slaughtering them in incredible numbers.

KILLING KANGAROOS

For years, the animals have been killed, skinned, and the leather used to make soccer shoes.

“There are probably five to 6 million killed by shooting and direct killing that puts aside the fires and the other perturbations of the habitat that are human caused that result. Millions more dying, 2 million are killed for the skin trade, mainly for athletic shoes.”

Animal welfare organizations describe the killing by individual hunters as horrific.

“They might kill 40, 50, 100, 120 kangaroos a night,” said Pacelle in a recent interview. “They go to the places where the mobs of kangaroos gather, and they kill them and extraordinary numbers are added up throughout the year, you’re talking 2 million animals. It’s the largest slaughter of terrestrial wildlife in the world. It’s perhaps 10 times plus bigger than the infamous Canadian seal hunt.”

BANNING KANGAROO LEATHER

An effort to keep kangaroo leather out of the United States has been ongoing since at least 1971. This is when California passed a law banning the import and sale of kangaroo parts. Today, California is the only U.S. state to have a ban on selling kangaroo products.

Often called K-leather and other names, kangaroo leather is used not only in soccer shoes, but also for baseball mitts and gloves sold around the world.

An investigation by the Center for a Humane Economy found 93% of “dominant” online retailers were “illegally” sending kangaroo leather products into California.

Demand for “old school boots” made of kangaroo leather continues today according to the investigation, stating “numerous store owners point out that California’s failure to enforce the law leaves violators free to engage in an unfair business practice.”

In 2007 a moratorium on the 1971 law allowed the animal products to be traded in the state until the ban was reimposed in 2015.

It has been reported Australian officials say the ban doesn’t distinguish between different types of kangaroo. One official told the Los Angeles Times some populations of certain types of kangaroos are so large that the Australian government annually harvests them.

“Over the last decade, [California and Australia] have cooperated to ensure non-endangered kangaroo products are imported into California and sold by Californian businesses in a manner consistent with science-based wildlife management practices designed to ensure sustainability of kangaroo populations — currently numbering over 50 million for the 4 species in question,” Kim Beazley, Australian ambassador to the U.S., told the LA Times in June, 2015.

Earlier this year, The Guardian reported that while it is illegal to import and sell kangaroo leather products, it does not have the manpower to enforce the law claiming it was overwhelmed by the task of policing sales of more “egregious” animal products, including ivory and rhinoceros horn.

Pacelle said the trend of soccer players around the world wanting kangaroo leather goes back to Pele, the famed Brazilian soccer star, around 1970 when word spread that kangaroo skin was supple yet strong.

“We don’t need kangaroo skins, all of the major shoe manufacturers Adidas, Nike, Puma, have alternative fabrics that they use for their soccer cleats,” Pacelle said recently. “Most of their shoes are now vegan. They have been incredible innovators in lightweight fabrics that are durable and look great, serving the needs of high end athletes as well as just the average weekend warrior.”

THE INVESTIGATION

The investigations examined nine soccer shoe manufacturers, 124 independent soccer stores, eight national chains with 460 locations in California, and 76 online retailers.

Key Findings from the investigation:

  • Nine major athletic footwear manufacturers, with headquarters in Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S., violate the law by supplying California retailers with tens of thousands of kangaroo leather soccer cleats each year.
  • Nike, adidas, and Puma sell the most “k-leather” shoes into the state.
  • Seven of those nine manufacturers violate the law by selling kangaroo leather soccer cleats directly to California residents from their websites. Earlier this spring, Nike appeared to have halted the practice after repeated notices from the Center for a Humane Economy, but has resumed illegal sales.
  • Illegal kangaroo leather soccer shoes can be purchased at over 70 percent of the 124 soccer specialty retailers in the state, ranging from Chula Vista to Redding.
  • Of soccer stores in the Los Angeles area, 45 violate the law, 12 do not. Of soccer stores in the San Francisco area, 21 violate the law, eight do not.
  • Of the four national sporting goods chains, collectively operating 370 stores in the state, only Dick’s Sporting Goods violates the law. Some, but not all, of Dick’s 58 locations sell kangaroo leather cleats.
  • Of the 76 dominant e-commerce websites selling kangaroo leather cleats, 84 percent do not appear to take any measures preventing the illegal sale of kangaroo leather soccer cleats to California customers, including eBay and Eastbay; eight percent acknowledge the California law but violate it, like Zappos and Dick’s Sporting Goods; seven percent block orders and prevent violations, like Amazon and Soccer.com.
  • Of California businesses selling kangaroo leather soccer cleats, the largest violators include The Coliseum, Nicky’s Sports, Soccerkraze, Soccer Post, Soccer Pro Inc., Soccer Wearhouse and Xtreme Soccer.

“Over several months, the Center has investigated compliance with California Penal Code § 653o, the statute banning the import and sale of kangaroo leather in California. We directly contacted every major athletic shoe manufacturer and retailer selling in the state, examined their websites for inventory and offerings, made numerous in-person visits to soccer stores, searched law enforcement records, and engaged in a wide range of other activities to understand the athletic wear industry’s level of compliance with the law. This Report identifies key players in the soccer cleat industry who fail to comply with the ban, recommends best practices to achieve compliance, and strongly urges California authorities to enforce the kangaroo products prohibition.”

Center for a Humane Economy

SIDESTEPPING THE LAW

Shoemakers and retailers continue to sidestep the law according to the Center for a Humane Economy.

Some retailers are getting around the California law by not shipping into California.

Pacelle told Mystery Wire some shoe manufacturers and retailers are shipping the kangaroo leather products to neighboring states, like Nevada, and trucking the product into California where it will be sold illegally.

Mystery Wire was not able to confirm this claim at this time.

THE FIGHT CONTINUES

For many in California the fight to end all sales of kangaroo leather in the state and across the nation is far from over.

Both Nike and Zappos acknowledge the kangaroo leather ban in California on-line.

On any zappos.com page selling kangaroo leather shoes, the consumer sees this sentence written in bold, “Please note that due to the use of kangaroo leather in this product and restrictions under California law, we are unable to ship this style to addresses in California.”

Nike has a separate page dedicated to the kangaroo leather ban.

“WHY ARE SOME SOCCER CLEATS NOT AVAILABLE FOR SHIPMENT TO CALIFORNIA?
The California Penal Code prohibits the sale of products made from, among other materials, kangaroo leather. Nike uses kangaroo leather in a limited number of our Premier and Tiempo soccer cleats. We will cancel all orders placed for these products with a California shipping address.
Nike Mercurial, Hypervenom, Phantom Vision, and Magista soccer cleats can be shipped to California (and all other US and APO/FPO shipping addresses) since they do not include kangaroo leather.”

NIKE.com

California Penal Code on kangaroo and other animal bans

Legislation was introduced in Congress in 1987 called the Kangaroo Protection Act, however, after passing out of committee and being introduced in the House, it stalled, and no further action was taken. The proposed law as written in 1987 “provides that any administrative exception made under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 permitting the importation of kangaroos, their parts, and products shall not apply to kangaroos removed from the wild in accordance with an Australian management plan.”

Pacelle said there is a renewed push to get similar legislation passed into law. U.S. Representatives Salud Carbajal and Brian Fitzpatrick are going to introduce the Kangaroo Protection Act right after the election, according to Pacelle.

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