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The taming of the roo

The kangaroo is one of Australia's national symbols. It features on the reverse of the one dollar coin, forms the logo of the national airline, and, in the form of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, is an enduring televisual icon. But Australians' fondness for the cute marsupial has not prevented the animals from becoming an increasingly big business, commercially harvested for their meat and their hides.

On a moonless night, about 250 kilometres north-east of Perth, professional kangaroo hunter Rob Everington swings a spotlight from the roof of his pick-up truck, looking for a glint of reflected light in the eyes of his prey. Spotting an animal crouching in a wheat field, he lowers the windscreen onto the truck's bonnet, grabs the rifle which has been lying across his knees and takes aim from the driver's seat. A single shot rings out and the kangaroo falls to the ground, killed instantly with a shot through the head. Everington, who is fully licensed and tested for his shooting accuracy each year, kills around forty kangaroos in an average night, earning himself one thousand of those one dollar coins.

Commercial hunters have to work within an annual quota, which has increased in recent years - in 2004 5.5 million kangaroos were culled. Their meat has long been eaten by the Aboriginal community, and is now a staple of the Aussie supermarket, which stocks various cuts of kangaroo including fillets, steaks and 'kanga bangas' (sausages). The meat, which is high in protein and low in fat, is also used in the pet food industry. The other place those culled kangaroos end up is on the football pitch. Kangaroo leather is prized for its tensile strength, and is one of the finest and strongest lightweight leathers available. 70% of the world supply is used in the production of sportswear, most notably Adidas football boots. The company's Predator boot, which is marketed as a revolutionary technological breakthrough, is manufactured in Asian factories from kangaroo skin. The company is the global leader in soccer footwear, and expected to make US $1.5 billion in football sales in 2006, a World Cup year.

But Skippy has an unlikely ally. The brightest star of them all, English player David Beckham, who is paid millions each year to endorse Adidas, has refused to wear kangaroo boots. It is believed that animal rights activists persuaded Beckham he would be better off in shoes made from synthetic fabrics.
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