Kangaroos, the iconic marsupial from Down Under, are prized by soccer players — not for their cuddliness, but for their skin. Some of the most coveted cleats and gloves are made with kangaroo leather.
But the availability of those products in California could be in doubt if a decades-old state ban on kangaroo products goes back into effect.
In an effort to protect Australia's emblematic animal, California banned the import of kangaroo parts in 1971. In 2007, the state put a moratorium on the ban, allowing the sale of kangaroo-skin products. The moratorium is set to expire at the end of this year.
The Australian government is not happy about that; it wants an end to the ban altogether.
Australian officials say the ban doesn't distinguish among the different types of kangaroo. Some are protected, others are not — and the numbers of certain types are so large that the Australian government annually culls 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., said in a statement.
"The Australian Government wishes to grow our strong economic ties by removing unnecessary trade barriers that are not grounded on science. A temporary solution has been in place for years and it is now time to adopt a permanent resolution," Beazley said.
No bill has been filed in the Legislature to extend California's prohibition, and animal-rights advocates are alarmed. They say the commercial trade of kangaroo products is cruel, and increased demand could harm the types of kangaroo that remain endangered.
They're particularly concerned about how the ban could be altered or undone.
An industry group, the Kangaroo Industry Assn. of Australia, hired a lobbyist last month, according to filings with the California secretary of state. The deadline for introducing policy bills this year passed soon after, so the law could now be changed only outside of the standard process.
Representatives of the Australian government have discussed the ban with lawmakers, including Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), who met with Beazley in Los Angeles last month. But representatives for De León and the Assembly speaker said that no change to the ban is in the works.
"The pro tem's office is not planning any new policy regarding the sale of kangaroo products in California," said Claire Conlon, a spokeswoman for De León.
John Casey, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), said that "attempting to lift the ban on importing kangaroo products in California is nothing the Assembly is considering at this time."
Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, said he was "not aware of any efforts out of our office" to change the ban.
Jennifer Fearing, a lobbyist for the Humane Society, said the issue should be aired in public.
"California policymakers should consider not only the Australian government's and kangaroo industry's assertions offered during private meetings, but also hear from other experts and the public," she said in an email.
"A bill introduced on time during our legislative process allows for such discussion," she said. "The industry has chosen a path now where at best, only a truncated discussion is possible — presumably because they think they won't get what they want if the issue is subject to a full public airing."