Shortly after Viva!’s launch in 1994, our attention was drawn to a new ‘product’ in Tesco’s meat chillers. Nestled on its Styrofoam tray and wrapped in clingfilm, it was simply labelled ‘kangaroo steak’. We discovered that this so-called delicacy is the product of the greatest slaughter of land animals in history. Hunted down at night in the vast outback, with powerful four-track vehicles, the startled animals are mesmerised with search lights and shot - supposedly in the head.
We obtained video footage of a shooter in action. What was depicted was a cruel and barbaric blood bath. Animals were shot in the throat, their legs slashed open, a hook inserted and they were hauled on to the back of the vehicle, still gasping in agony. Large, still-conscious males were dragged up by their testicles. When females were shot, the first action of the killer was to search their pouches for babies. Having found one, he threw it to the ground and stamped on it, grinding his heel on the ‘joey’s’ head. He walked away, leaving it writhing. Obviosuly, there is no justification for this wildlife massacre and our research revealed the excuses offered by the Australian government were lies.
We were determined to stop this cruelty and targeted Tesco - persistently for two years. We printed special materials for their customers and put hundreds of local groups outside their stores to distribute it and supplied information to the media. The culmination was a double-page spread in the News of the World on kangaroo killing and Tesco dropped the trade four days later. That was 26 September 1997.
In 1998, Viva!’s director Juliet Gellatley visited Australia and created a storm of controversy - doing about 50 media interviews and a press conference at Canberra’s Houses of Parliament - filmed live on national and regional TV news. She returned to the UK to reinvigorate the campaign - including, on 24 July 1998, a demonstration outside Sainsbury’s supermarket’s headquarters in London. Actress, Pam Ferris, cut up her Sainsbury’s loyalty card in front of Australian and British radio and TV cameras. It was followed the next day with 100 demonstrations in the UK outside Sainsbury’s stores and in Australia at restaurants that sold the meat.
Representatives of the killing industry came to the London demo, desperate to protect their markets. It did them no good because Sainsburys also dumped ‘roo meat and were followed by all the main supermarkets - 1,500 stores in all. It led to Juliet being presented with the Australian Wildlife Protection Council award for services to wildlife.
Despite the victory in Britain, Australia has been increasing its sales of kangaroo meat and leather all around the world. Juliet returned to Australia in 2001 to reinvigorate the campaign and to forge bonds between Australian and European groups in order to widen the campaign to save the kangaroo. We have to hope this will work because failure may well lead to the extinction of these unique and wonderful animals.
In 2006, there was good news. After years of persuasion from Viva!, David Beckham has finally said no to kangaroo leather. One of the most highly paid football stars in the world is now wearing cruelty-free synthetic boots! This story has made headlines around the world. Find out more about this dramatic U-turn here.
Football boots made out of kangaroo skin once again made the headlines in 2011, after it was discovered that the large manufacturers (such as Adidas) were moving away from using it due to pressure from Viva! and other groups. However, it emerged that the big four (Adidas, Nike, Umbro and Puma) still all used kangaroo leather to some degree. Stories in The Daily Star and The Observer followed.
In 2015, another budget supermaket, Iceland, also started selling so-called 'exotic meats' - including kangaroo. We have launched a new campaign to make them stop - which included a National Day of Action on Mother's Day weekend.
The situation remains grave. 2010 population estimates put the numbers of kangaroos in Australia at just over 25 million; down by over 32 million on the 2001 figure of 57.4 million. This is a decline of nearly 1.9 million kangaroos in Australia since 2009 – and, worryingly, a drop has been seen in all four species that are hunted. Still, nearly 4 million kangaroos are earmarked for slaughter each year.
This figure takes no account of the hundreds of thousands of baby ‘Joeys’, who are either left to die from starvation or are removed from their dead mother’s pouches and are clubbed to death with iron pipes.