Soccer Players Eye California's Kangaroo Ban

The California Supreme Court upheld a ban this week on the importation and sale of products made from a variety of wildlife species, including the kangaroo. The decision could have a major effect on soccer players, who value kangaroo leather for its softness and durability.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

SIEGEL: There was a ruling by the California State Supreme Court this week that was ostensibly about the state's ability to impose restrictions on imports that exceed federal regulations. But, beyond the dry stuff of federalism, this ruling touches on animal rights, big league soccer, and what leapt out at us - kangaroos.

There's a California law that bars the sale of the dead body or any part or product thereof of a list of more than 30 animal species from sable antelopes to zebras, and that list includes kangaroos. Like New York, and unlike the rest of the states, California bans goods made from kangaroos even though federal law doesn't. Here's the rub.

MARK MONASCH: A lot of the higher-end soccer shoes are made out of kangaroo hide because it is a softer, stronger leather than basic calfskin and much more desirable for soccer players because you can get the - could touch on the ball, which is very important.

SIEGEL: That's Mark Monasch, who owns Kickers Soccer Shop in Belmont, California. You carry shoes, soccer shoes made of kangaroo hide?

MONASCH: Yes, we do.

SIEGEL: It's against the law in California.

MONASCH: Well, that's what I'm understanding, but it's a law that - it's an older law because kangaroos were on the endangered species list, but are no longer considered endangered, the type that are used for these shoes anyway.

SIEGEL: Well, they're not endangered by Washington standards anymore, but in Sacramento, they're still on that protected list, hence, the litigation. Adidas, like other makers of kangaroo-leather soccer shoes, has evidently been supplying retailers like Mr. Monasch with contraband footwear for sometime, so the company challenged the ban in court. And so far, it has not won.

Mark Monasch, the soccer shop owner, hopes that they will prevail or if not, that the state law will pass taking kangaroos off the list because...

MONASCH: Fifty percent or more of this is probably shoes made of kangaroo leather.

SIEGEL: You're saying that you're almost unaware that there was a ban on selling kangaroo products?

MONASCH: I was until recently. Yes, that's true.

SIEGEL: A colleague of mine showed me a Web site for Cabelas outfitters, where they're selling kangaroo featherweight uninsulated boots. And it says here, due to state law, these boots cannot be shipped to California. I mean, they seemed be aware of the restriction.

MONASCH: Yeah, apparently so.

SIEGEL: Live and learn. If retailers don't even know about the ban, and if they've been blithely violating it, then California Fish and Game obviously isn't enforcing it so strictly. And spokesman Steve Martarano says that's true. With just a couple of hundred game wardens for the whole state, they have bigger fish to fry.

STEVE MARTARANO: We've got some recruitment problems and so we have to prioritize pretty much everything we do. It's safe to say that this isn't a priority.

SIEGEL: And local law enforcement could choose to crack down if they want to. Well, kangaroo products are a priority for one group. VIVA - that's Vegetarian's International Voice for Animals, they support the ban and they say that in Australia, hunters may aim for kangaroo species that are not endangered, but they sometimes mistakenly hit once that are.

Well, the Australian consul general in Los Angles says that's unlikely. Kangaroos, he said, run in mobs and tend to run with their own kind. And they are plentiful, between 15 and 50 million.

One last twist here, while many high-end soccer players favor kangaroo shoes, California's highest-end player has sworn off them. David Beckham, in deference to his wife's vegetarianism, wears synthetics.

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