New documentary exposes Australia’s dirty secret – Kangaroos killed by the millions each year

By on January 19, 2018 with 5 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

The grisly and grainy images that open the jarring documentary “Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story” are not the most difficult images you’ll ever see in a feature film about animals’ suffering and abuse. That’s not because the callousness evidenced in the film is any less intense than the kind of cruelty on display in “The Cove” or, as we saw in “Trophy” on CNN the other night, or because it’s any easier to swallow the killing of kangaroos than the misery that animals endure on factory farms as shown in “Forks Over Knives.” It’s because the killing of kangaroos occurs at night. In the cloak of darkness in the remote, rural desert lands of Australia, and it’s hard to see what kind of mayhem is directed at kangaroos in these outposts.

Cruelty depends on our disassociation from it and the concealment of it by the perpetrators. When it’s wrapped in darkness, hidden behind a laboratory wall or a factory farm warehouse, it’s tougher to expose and easier to avoid or forget about in the first place.

But animal-oriented documentaries are throwing back the curtain on so many forms of abuse, and gracefully produced, fast-moving “Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story” may do for kangaroos what “Blackfish” did for orcas or “At the Fork, Inc.” did for animals used in industrial agriculture. They tell the detailed stories we’ve never heard, and demand that we ask tougher questions about our conduct and the history of our exploitation of animals.

The Australians’ relationship with kangaroos is as confusing and contradictory a relationship as any people have with any species. Kangaroos are the symbol of Australia and a national icon there—the most recognized brand ambassador of any nation, after Lady Liberty in New York harbor or France’s Marianne. While there are plenty of advocates for kangaroos in Australia, the public is divided on their treatment. There are also plenty of haters, and they are doing a number on the biggest of the marsupials.

Most Americans and other fans of the culture and countryside of Australia are unaware that nationals there kill three million adult kangaroos and hundreds of thousands of joeys every year, partly as an attempt at “pest control” but also to feed the commercial kangaroo industry.

In an approach that includes a range of perspectives, but amplifies the voices of those who call out ruthless tactics and practices when they see them, “Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story,” explains the decades-long campaign by farmers and the commercial kangaroo industry—working often in tandem with the Australian government—to demonize these creatures and to create a sort of collective detachment that enables nations to do terrible things to a species. The talented directors, Kate McIntyre Clere and Mick McIntyre, point out that these policies and practices don’t just produce immense cruelty, but they are driving down the numbers of dozens of the 70 or so species in the kangaroo family.

Although the industry claims that killing is a necessary evil, in order to preserve forage in an arid nation with millions of domesticated sheep, the documentarians show a different reality—an inhumane, unsustainable massacre, largely unknown to millions who consider the kangaroos as a startlingly original species worth admiring and protecting.

The Australian National Code of Practice dictates that hunters should shoot kangaroos through the brain to ensure immediate death, but poor nighttime visibility results in a crapshoot when it comes to bullet placement. There seems to be as much crippling as killing. When pregnant and nursing kangaroos are killed, their joeys are killed in savage ways—the collateral damage simply discarded and left to die from exposure to the elements.

Kangaroo products are traded internationally in the form of leather, soccer cleats, meat for human consumption, and pet food. There are now many synthetic alternatives to kangaroo leather, so the rationale of footwear freedom hardly commands our attention. Nike, Adidas, and so many other companies have made the switch to human-made fabrics for our athletic adventures.

While you won’t run into kangaroo meat on many menus, it has its consumer following. But with the animals butchered and dressed in the field, exposed to the dust and heat of punishing outback, foodborne illnesses such as salmonella and E. coli find ready carcasses, turning eating the meat into a gastro-intestinal adventure. Even Russia, not known as tremendously forward-thinking of food safety, has banned kangaroo meat as a food safety hedge.

The continent wide population of kangaroos dropped by more than 20 million between 2001 and 2010—from an estimated 57 million to perhaps 34 million. The killing has continued unabated in recent years, and the population is suffering more with the onslaught.

In 2015, despite a strong-armed attempt by the government of Australia and the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia—which included violations of California’s lobbying disclosure laws—The HSUS successfully thwarted efforts in the legislature to keep California’s trade in kangaroo products open. We anticipate there will be continued attempts to revive this trade but major athletic shoe manufacturers and other end-product consumers are moving on and finding alternatives.

“Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story” opens in theaters today, and must be the wake-up call we need to reverse mass killing of these beautiful and unique animals. Watch the trailer for the movie, and check out the initial screenings to attend one near you.

Wildlife/Marine Mammals

Subscribe to the Blog

Enter your email address below to receive updates each time we publish new content.


Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Anne says:

    I don’t understand…if kangaroos are being killed for meat by hunters, how is this less humane than factory farming? At least the kangaroos are able to live in the wild…I’ve eaten roast kangaroo in Australia and I didn’t get sick; why would I have? Because someone butchered the kangaroo in the wild the way our ancestors did for 100,000 years? Something is missing from this story!

  2. Dana Keefe says:

    Thank you! There is an initial screening in Bellingham WA on Feb. 1, which is close to my location.

  3. Simon Validzic says:

    Kangaroos are not pests but native animals living in their homeland. They have an intrinsic value and do not exist just to be killed by humans. There is no such thing as humane killing and the killing is not sustainable. Human shooters target the largest individuals and, over time, that causes negative genetic selection of the species. Natural predators do the exact opposite; they kill the weakest individuals. Indigenous Australian Elders oppose the commercial killing of native animals. The fact that Indigenous Australians hunted kangaroos is no excuse because the present human population of Australia is about 100 times what it was before the white colonization of Australia. There is only one species with a population problem and that can be reduced by cutting family allowances and one-off baby payments, especially to those with more than 2 children. I lived in Australia from 1970 to 1992 and never saw a kangaroo in the wild. Since I do not wish to be part of a country that is the result of genocide against indigenous peoples, and in which the large-scale killing of native animals and destruction of forests and the environment continues to take place, I returned to my country of origin, Croatia, and encourage others to do the same.

    • Lisa says:

      That’s interesting you never saw wild kangaroos..? How often did you venture out of the city? I drive 50km to work on country roads and I literally see them every day. Adelaide and Perth has kangaroos virtually on its doorsteps. Kangaroos are a common sight on golf courses. Your whole comment seems very ignorant.

      The issue is a created one, like most things are. Before colonisation, Australia was mostly thick scrub. The clearing of land and the planting of pasture has actually allowed kangaroo populations to flourish, as food for them is easily accessible and plentiful. A female kangaroo can be pregnant, have a small joey in her pouch and a larger joey out of her pouch simultaneously so they breed quite prolifically. Farmers killed off a lot of their natural predators, dingoes. So in essence we have made an environment that they can thrive in.
      You spoke of natural selection – natural selection is cruel. Natural selection is dying slowly by illness, starvation, injury and predation. You prefer animals to die in those ways than a bullet to the head?
      Also, I bloody hope you are vegan to say that kangaroos do not exist to be eaten – what animals do?

      And the article is incorrect. Australia has pretty strict guidelines for producing meat, you can’t just shoot a kangaroo, butcher it in the outback and then sell the meat for human consumption. Its just not legal. I’m all for conservation and animal welfare, but I can’t take something like this seriously when they come at it from this angle. Decisions on what is best for our wildlife, and our country, need to be made based on FACTS, not emotions.

      • Simon Validzic says:

        (I just noticed your reply when I did a Google search to for my name and surname in to see if a newspaper can verify my telephone number and identity that way for a letter to the editor).

        I lived in Victoria; near Geelong from 1970 to 1983; and in a suburb 40 km SE of Melbourne to 1992. My family would drive 80 km from Geelong to Melbourne to visit relatives at least every second weekend; I went to various school excursions and camps and did farm work such as picking potatoes and peas. I went to Sydney twice (once by car in 1980 and once by train in 1988) and I went to Canberra (once by bus in 1991).

        Kangaroos may have better pasture in some areas but humans have taken a lot of the best land (near the coast) for housing, road networks and agriculture. Farmers and hunters claim that native animal populations are too high in any country; for example, that there are too many wolves, bears and deer in Croatia, but I have never seen these animals in the wild. Other European countries are even worse and have killed most of their large native animals. Humans are just one of millions of species yet human activities take up about 50% of the land area of the world and over 90% of oceans are overfished. The species extinction rate due to humans is about 100 times faster than the historic natural extinction rate. This is science, not emotion.

        With natural selection, the prey has a chance of escaping. I would rather take my chances than have a ‘master’ who decides when it is time to shoot me.

        I am vegan and also avoid palm oil and other raw materials from Southeast Asia, North and South America, Australia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Hoverver, I may be unknowingly using such raw materials because, for example, Croatia produces beet sugar whereas some products may contain cane sugar which is from South America and Australia. There is a lot of misleading labelling of country of origin on products. Then there is the issue of non-food products. It is almost impossible to know where the raw materials originate that are used to make metals, plastics and so on. Other vegans wish to silence me when I discuss these issues. I also choose foods that do not require that the plant be killed because they are derived from fruits, seeds and minerals.

Share a Comment

The HSUS encourages open discussion, and we invite you to share your opinion on our issues. By participating on this page, you are agreeing to our commenting policy.
Please enter your name and email address below before commenting. Your email address will not be published.