Kangaroo: a Love-Hate Story

Kangaroo: a Love-Hate Story,
Directed by Kate McIntyre Clere and Mick McIntyre

Kangaroo has been doing the rounds on the international film festival circuit, receiving quite a bit of acclaim, and now with it being eligible for the 2019 Oscars they are making a push to get it noticed a bit wider by cinema-goers (and the Academy, the old “for your consideration”), which is how yours truly managed to get a screener to watch. And although this is very, very hard to watch in places, I am glad I had the chance to see this Australian documentary. As the film-makers and others point out early on there is a real dichotomy in the image of the kangaroo – it is the national symbol of Australia, it’s on their coat of arms, that sports-mad nation nicknames many of its teams after roos. And yet they slaughter millions of these animals every single year.

Not just slaughter, but killed often in the most disgustingly inhumane ways. Make no mistake, although this is a compelling documentary, you will need a strong stomach in certain parts of this film, it does not pull many punches in depicting just what goes on, nor should it – one of the central points here is that so many, in Australia and around the world where roo products (meat, leather) are exported, are totally unaware of what is happening, aided by a complacent government that seems to be in cahoots with a wealthy, multi-million dollar industry (and isn’t that something we’ve seen all too often in many different industries in many different countries? Strange how easily morality and decency can go when big money is involved). There are some stomach-churning scenes filmed by activists who are determined to break that cover, bring these practises out into the light – literally, as most of the hunting is done at night.

The law says any kangaroos “harvested” need to be killed swiftly and humanely, as you’d expect from similar standards in any animal food industries – we all, rightly, get sickened and outraged if cattle, pigs and sheep are made to suffer before the inevitable abattoir date and we have built up laws to protect the animals from such needless suffering. But shooter firing at night from a truck bumping over rough terrain and firing at a moving target often miss. Many roos are hit but not fatally, some take hours, days or in one case the crew documents, two weeks to die. Two weeks of agony and suffering. And that’s not the worst – there are the baby Joeys, the mothers shot, the baby still alive but helpless. The hunters take the baby animal and swing it by its hind legs, dashing its head on the nearby Ute (that ubiquitous Aussie truck), or in one especially sickening scene, the man stands on a tiny infant Joey after pulling it from the pouch of the dead mother. Yes, I did warn you, there are some stomach-turning scenes here. I’m an old horror fiend, grew up in that first wave of unregulated “video nasties”, and can take all sorts of gore on film. If it is fictional. Seeing it inflicted on an animal for real. Not so much.

The film doesn’t use these tactics just as shockers to get your attention and raise your awareness though, it is quite clear how stressful and disturbing this is to the film-makers and to the activists who are gathering this evidence, often at the risk of their own life. One couple who film and collect evidence bought land as a preserve for wildlife, but the law allows neighbouring farmers to drive onto their land and kill roos legally. Yeah, imagine a bunch of gun nuts on a truck in the dark of an outback night driving right past your house on your ground firing away and imagine not just the animal slaughter on your own property but how easily that could end in a human tragedy too. They gather evidence in film and, gruesomely, in body parts, that are then examined by vets to prove violations of the hunting rules. The government has largely ignored such evidence before, but with green politicians getting into office now they have politicians who are able to highlight this evidence, and as well as taking it to Aussie authorities, media and people to expose the reality, they take it to other countries who import kangaroo products, which hits the industry where it hurts (suddenly big sports stars like Beckham find out their footie boot leather came from kangaroos and how they were killed, and the major companies like Adidas, unsurprisingly, soon also decide this is not good).

Maybe you aren’t an animal lover and are wondering why you should be bothered. There is more here than just respect for nature and animals though – the big industry sways government policy (you know, governments, who are meant to represent the people, not corporations) and attempts to do similar abroad (one sequence shows some rather underhand shenanigans as they try to influence Californian politicians to lift a ban in imports). And then there is the health question – the roo meat for human consumption does not get the same strict hygiene rules that beef or pork does. The shooters drive through the outback at night, shoot a roo, hang it on the back of the Ute, gut it then and there (another pretty awful scene to watch – blood, knife, innards and bolt-cutters for those strong legs. Yes, shudder), then drive on looking for more. They all have to be shot between dusk and dawn when it is cooler, but as this is allowed at night it can regularly be over 30 degrees centigrade. And it takes all night to fill the truck, so imagine all those corpses hanging in that heat for hours before being driven some distance to the nearest refrigerated storage chiller. Driven in heat on dusty, fly-ridden roads while exposed to all of that contamination and heat, spoiling away. Independent studies of roo meat on sale in shops showed high levels of salmonella and e.coli. So even if you don’t care about animal welfare and enjoy your red meat, you should be worried about this.

It’s often a hard film to watch, there are some truly disturbing scenes, but that’s part of what makes this such a powerful documentary, and the way it covers the other strands, from the big industry-government collusion, the media buying unquestioningly into the much-peddled lies (“they are vermin and need to be exterminated”, “upsetting the natural balance”), the clearly dodgy “science” government agencies use to “prove” animal numbers (which don’t stand up to even basic logical scrutiny) and the public health threat is well handled and gives a rounded picture, rather than simply dwelling on the hideously huge slaughter. The fact much of this is beautifully shot, taking in that astonishing Australian outback and the gorgeous, iconic animals themselves adds a powerful contrast to the more disturbing scenes, while the film itself lays bare not just the monstrous slaughter (millions of animals a year) and the inhumanity of it, but asks upsetting questions about just how humans, as a species, see the natural world as a resource to be used and consumed.

This review was originally penned for Live For Film

The sad story of Marius

Today the Copenhagen Zoo has put a healthy young animal to death – Marius, a young giraffe, was found to be genetically surplus to requirements. The zoo allows the breeding then decides if they have sufficient of one particular genetic strain of animal then they can simply get rid of the others to ‘manage the population’. Manage the population. By which they mean exterminating healthy animals. Healthy animals which they encouraged into being through captive breeding programmes then discarded as if they were broken toys. Domestic pet owners are castigated – rightly – if they do not have their animals neutered unless they have specific plans to breed them and to take care of the offspring. This is to ensure fewer abandoned animals left to suffer unwanted (sadly something that is on the rise). And yet in zoos all over Europe they breed species then decide they have sufficient and destroy some of the perfectly healthy offspring. If a domestic pet owner was doing this they would be named and shamed, in zoos it is “managing the population.”

They say they had to cull the animal before it reached breeding age and would want to reproduce. So why not neuter the animal as we do with domestic creatures? Oh, that would interfere with the animal’s ‘natural’ life cycle. Hold on, he’s captive in a bloody zoo! There is nothing natural about that life cycle. Neither is there anything natural about putting a bolt gun to this animal’s head and killing him, you hypocritical, amoral, self-serving bastards. On their page they explain why they have to ‘euthanise’ Marius and again we are into self-serving excuses and outright lies – this is not euthanasia, that’s a last gasp procedure used on animals with terminal illnesses or in great pain which can’t be alleviated, as an act of mercy to end suffering. When it involves a perfectly healthy animal it is not euthanasia, it is slaughter, plain and simple. Stop hiding behind weasel terms, you unethical tossers and stop pretending this is all done ‘for the best’

Marius was offered not one but two different homes in wildlife parks in Yorkshire and in the Netherlands, both of which Copenhagen Zoo turned down as ‘unsuitable’ and declaring it was in the animal’s best interests to be put to death. That just proves the unethical and uncaring stance of those running the zoo, which tries to present itself to the public as a caring place taking care of animals. Well, here’s their real face. It’s not just them, this happens in zoos across Europe, just a year or two ago Edinburgh Zoo got into a PR storm when it emerged they were doing similar with healthy animals they had bred then decided to discard. Unsurprisingly it caused them a lot of problems with many on social media pledging not to ever take their families there to visit again until the policy was halted (many keepers too were upset about it, they look after animals, putting healthy ones to death isn’t what they signed up for). Copenhagen Zoo is apparently one of Denmark’s top attractions – I wonder if a lot of folk will refuse to visit after these vile actions? Earlier in the weekend the director of the zoo said he didn’t understand why there had been such an international outcry at the zoo’s plans. I would submit if he doesn’t understand why this has outraged so many people then he is not a suitable person to be in charge of the welfare of animals and should resign his position.

Seal clubbers drowned

I see news reports of a group of seal hunters (Canada’s great shameful annual bloodfest) drowning after their ship overturns among the ice and frigid waters of northern Canada. And I have to admit it makes me feel a bit conflicted – on the one hand I feel awful that people died but on the other hand as these are folks who jump off a boat, run up to seals, club them violently over the head then drag them back to their ship leaving a long trail of bright, crimson blood on the snow as they do its also a bit hard to feel sympathetic to them (especially as they do this to thousands of animals and monitoring groups have found that often the animals are not killed outright, some escape but seriously injured to die slowly in agony, others are dragged on board semi-conscious where they start skinning them dead or otherwise). Like I say, leaves me feeling conflicted – I hate the idea of people drowning in those frozen waters but I also despise what they do by the thousand every single year. I suspect the seals have a different perspective on it.