Demand for soccer shoes helps to drive increased kangaroo culling
BETHESDA, Maryland––When Pelé, the most famous and perhaps the greatest soccer player of all time, died on December 29, 2022, almost nobody figuratively jumped on his grave.
There was, however, one exception, Center for a Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Action president Wayne Pacelle.
Pacelle had many millions of reasons.
The Brazilian athlete Pelé, 82, whose actual name was Edson Arantes do Nascimento, “was an extraordinary figure and humanitarian,” Pacelle conceded, “but in 1970, he famously scripted a lacing of his soccer cleats on the world stage, drawing interest to the [then] newly designed soccer footwear made from kangaroos by Puma.”
Paid $120,000 to push kangaroo leather
Explained a Center for a Humane Economy media release, brothers Rudolph Dassler led Puma; Adolph Dassler led rival Adidas.
“Though the Dassler brothers had an agreement not to sign Pelé to a shoe contract , as it would be too costly, Puma secretly reneged on the ‘Pelé pact,’” the Center for a Humane Economy continued, “and with the greatest of fanfare, unveiled Pele’s signature shoe, the Puma King, made of kangaroo skin, in the 1970 World Cup quarterfinal featuring Brazil and Peru.
“Pelé was reportedly paid $120,000 to delay the start of the game, bending to tie his boots in the center circle, with the world’s cameras watching.
“From that point on, sales of kangaroo leather shoes surged, and they became part of the footwear collection of the major brands in the field. They persist today, driving the killing of two million kangaroos [per year], including 500,000 joeys, in their native habitats in Australia for Puma, Nike, Adidas, and several other athletic brands.”
Pelé kicked open the global market
Spalding had introduced kangaroo leather cleats to major league baseball before 1890, but at $7.00 a pair, equivalent to $230 in 2023 dollars, the baseball market remained small for the next 100 years, though Mizuno, Rawlings, and other brands continue to offer them.
But worldwide, only 65 million people play baseball and/or softball. More than 250 million play soccer.
Pelé kicked open a global market for kangaroo leather soccer shoes that swiftly expanded what were then only occasional and relatively limited Australian kangaroo culls into a new major bloody industry, accounting, the Center for a Humane Economy alleges, for about 70% of current kangaroo culling.
“Kangaroos are not shoes”
Pacelle, the Center for a Humane Economy, and Animal Wellness Action have since 2019 waged a “Kangaroos Are Not Shoes” campaign, endorsed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in a rare instance of rival U.S.-based animal advocacy organizations sharing a campaign slogan.
“Kangaroos Are Not Shoes” is a two-footed campaign.
On the legislative front, “Kangaroos Are Not Shoes” has filed a lawsuit seeking enforcement of a California law prohibiting sales of kangaroo-based products, on the books since 1971 but widely ignored, and is lobbying in pursuit of similar federal legislation.
On the athletic field, “Kangaroos Are Not Shoes” seeks to persuade athletes to wear shoes made from synthetic materials, which have already been the choice of many top competitive runners at every distance for decades.
This aspect of “Kangaroos Are Not Shoes” may be having some success.
Goals & saves
Ten days before Pelé died, Pacelle on December 19, 2022 pointed out via a Center for a Humane Economy media release that, “Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and other soccer stars performed on the global stage in the 2022 World Cup without lacing up soccer cleats made from the skins of kangaroos.
“According to an analysis of all matches, conducted by the Center for a Humane Economy,” Pacelle said, “World Cup players scored 172 goals throughout the competition — and only eight came from players wearing kangaroo skin cleats.
“This is not the first world-class soccer tournament to show these kinds of numbers,” Pacelle added. “At the European Football Championships in 2021, players wearing Nikes scored 73 out of 123 total goals. But 72 out of 73 came from models made of Flyknit, a synthetic material. Only one goal was struck with a Nike shoe made from kangaroos.”
World Cup players also wore kangaroo leather cleats from several other manufacturers, but “In all,” Pacelle said, “the Center determined that the vast majority — more than 95% — of all World Cup goals made [in 2022] were from players wearing shoes from human-made fabrics, and just 5% from kangaroo-based shoes.”
Kangaroo quota boosted
Meanwhile Down Under in Australia, the Victoria state Department of Energy, Environment & Climate Action on January 4, 2023, five days after Pelé died, recommended that the grey kangaroo quota for the year be boosted by 27%, from 185,850 in 2022 to 236,350.
The Victoria state grey kangaroo population is officially estimated at 2.4 million. The recommended cull target is set at 10% of the total.
Victoria is only one of the seven Australian states and territories in which kangaroos are culled annually, with separate quotas set for meat hunters and for landowners killing “nuisance” kangaroos.
“Competing for food with livestock”
There are no quotas set for sport hunting of kangaroos in Australia. Sport hunters, like other kangaroo hunters, must obtain either a meat-hunting permit or a permit to shoot “nuisance” kangaroos, must demonstrate shooting skill, and are not allowed to use either semi-automatic or other “self-loading” weapons, to prevent spray-shooting into kangaroo “mobs,” which may hit kangaroos at random.
The Australian kangaroo culling rules emphasize making head shots.
“There is an abundance of kangaroos at the moment competing for food with livestock and so this is also about making sure we have a sustainable number of kangaroos in the state,” alleged Victoria state minister for agriculture Mary-Anne Thomas in January 2021, a claim echoed almost every year since commercial hunts for kangaroo meat began in 1959.
Kangaroo hunting vs. deer hunting
Americans opposing the Australian kangaroo culls who do not also oppose deer hunting are vulnerable to being accused of hypocrisy.
Deer and kangaroos, though wholly unrelated, as an ungulate and a marsupial, are so similar in diet and habits as to be an often cited example of parallel evolution.
Complaints from farmers and drivers about deer and kangaroos eating crops and wandering into roads are also similar.
The U.S., with land mass of about 1.3 times the size of Australia, currently supports a population of 33 million deer; up from barely 300,000 a century ago.
Of these 33 million whitetail and blacktail deer, hunters currently shoot about 6.3 million per year, about 19% of the total herd.
Australia claims 50 million kangaroos, of 48 species. Hunters are allowed to shoot only members of the six most common species. In practice, the targeted species are the red kangaroo, eastern and western grey kangaroos, and common wallaroo.
Australian hunters shoot on average about 1.5 million kangaroos per year, about 3% of the total mob.
“Hypocrisy is not a greater sin than cruelty”
––Frances Power Cobbe
The toll of two million per year cited by Pacelle and the Center for a Humane Economy includes joeys still in the pouch, who are usually killed by a blow to the head.
The cruelty inherent in killing joeys is self-evident, yet likely not greater than many common outcomes of deer hunting, including orphaning fawns where spring deer hunts are held, and wounding but failing to retrieve deer, especially common in archery hunting.
Pacelle, however, debuted in animal advocacy by leading protests against deer hunting as a Yale undergraduate in 1986.
Deer hunting remained among Pacelle’s focal issues throughout his tenure as national director of the Fund for Animals, 1989-1994, before he moved to the Humane Society of the U.S., serving as director of legislation for ten years before becoming president, 2004-2018.
Pacelle founded the Center for a Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Action after leaving the Humane Society of the U.S. amid allegations of sexual harassment.