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Australians hopping mad over LA kangaroo stunt

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Thursday described as "pretty off" reports that tourism officials put a distressed kangaroo in a cage on a busy Los Angeles street to promote the country.

world Updated: Mar 25, 2010 12:47 IST

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Thursday described as "pretty off" reports that tourism officials put a distressed kangaroo in a cage on a busy Los Angeles street to promote the country.

Tourism Australia was forced to defend its use of the kangaroo in a January "G'Day USA" marketing campaign in Beverly Hills after a video was posted on YouTube showing it swaying back and forth in apparent distress.

Rudd said he hadn't seen the footage but expressed concern at what he had heard about the treatment of the animal, which is featured on Australia's coat of arms.

"I'm pretty worried about the reports that I've seen, pretty worried, and it sounds pretty off to me," Rudd told reporters.

"Many of us grew up in the days of Skippy, and you know something? If you've grown up in the days of Skippy you want to make sure that our national symbol is being properly respected in the way in which Australia projects itself abroad."

Iconic 1960s television series "Skippy the Bush Kangaroo" followed the exploits of the animal, her young owner Sonny and rangers of the Waratah park.

The popular children's serial was shown in more than 80 countries and was one of Australia's earliest cultural exports.

Tourism Australia spokeswoman Rachel Crowley said the performing 'roo in Los Angeles - a 10-year-old male named Fesnick - came from a reputable animal handler and was displayed only in four-hour stints.

But animal expert Tim Faulkner told News Limited newspapers that the animal was clearly unwell.

"The animal is obviously distressed, there is no question about it," Faulkner said after viewing the footage.

"The sort of stress I see here suggests it has endured long-term problems."

Bob Irwin, the father of late wildlife icon Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin, issued a statement from his hospital bed where he is recovering from a heart attack.

"It is a terrible image for Australia to send to the world, seeing a magnificent kangaroo treated in such a cruel way," said Irwin.

"Where the bloody hell is the government? I trust the government will also take Tourism Australia to task on their poor judgment."

Tourism Australia previously came under fire for the 2006 Where the Bloody Hell Are You? campaign, which was deemed too offensive to be screened in some countries and was described by Rudd as a "rolled gold disaster".