The Curious Case of the Detroit Kangaroo

Darwin is the star, not me. I was just walking him down the street for a birthday party.” 

Javon Stacks, owner of the Exotic Zoo

Eli Newman / WDET

Javon Stacks (left) shows off his kangaroo Darwin

At the Redford branch of the Detroit Public Library, a group of kids and intrigued adults sit and watch Javon Stacks reveal animal after exotic animal. He’s got a young blue peacock that flies from one end of the table to the other. Moments later, Stacks shows off a big-eyed, long-tailed animal called a kinkajou. He lets the assembled children pet an Indian runner duck and a chinchilla. But the main attraction is Darwin, the internet-famous kangaroo. “I’ve seen a viral video on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat about a guy in the city with a kangaroo so we had come down and check it out,” says Terrance Milliner, who came down with his nephew.

A kangaroo on a leash in Detroit. It was the perfect combination of elements for a viral video.

It generated thousands of re-posts on social media. And like all good viral videos, it soon found itself on local TV news shows and websites across the country.

For Javon Stacks, it’s just another day of work. “For a personal, hands-on thing, we bring the animals to you,” says Stacks. “Exotic Zoo goes to schools, libraries, daycares, senior homes and they’re able to touch the animals. It’s a special and unique experience where you can learn about animals and touch them.” Stacks, whose exotic zoo is licensed in Farmington Hills by the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the video misrepresents how he treats his kangaroo. Darwin is only leashed when we bring him outdoors,” says Stacks. “When he’s indoors and we’re performing a show, we don’t leash him. There’s no reason, he’s not going to jump away and run around.”

Is that animal being mistreated? Yes, it’s welfare is undoubtedly, seriously compromised.”

Scott Carter, Chief Life Sciences Officer at the Detroit Zoological Society

Contrary to his statements, it appears Stacks has leashed his kangaroos when performing shows. A few days after visiting the Redford branch library, a video surfaced from a show comedian Mike Epps put on in Detroit. In it, Stacks leads a bigger kangaroo on a leash to the stage, lifting him up as they all dance around to blaring music from a local rapper and pose for selfies. On one occasion, the kangaroo swats at Epps, who has since apologized, pledging support to the Save the Kangaroo group.

For Scott Carter, the chief life sciences officer at the Detroit Zoological Society, the way Stacks treats Darwin is objectionable. “Kangaroos are not domestic animals,” Carter says. “Like all animals, they have agency. They are made to want to do certain things. They’re social animals, they live with other kangaroos, they require space, they require the ability to move around. Carter says whether or not owning a kangaroo is legal, people should be questioning “When we take animals like that and we take away their choice and control, like making an animal walk on a leash or dragging it onto a stage, is that animal being mistreated? Yes, it’s welfare is undoubtedly, seriously compromised.”

Following the last video, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says his “Exotic Zoo” has been flagged internally and by concerned organizations. PETA, the animal welfare activist group, issued a statement decrying the act. “Traumatic situations can be fatal to kangaroos—who are not hardy animals—and this individual was subjected to a great deal of stress by being dragged in front of a boisterous crowd and forced to ‘dance,’” PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange told The Hollywood Reporter. “PETA hopes the U.S. Department of Agriculture will conduct an immediate investigation and that the backlash over this stunt will remind all comedians that there’s nothing funny about cruelty to animals.”

WDET News

Javon Stacks USDA Inspection Report - 2015 [Address redacted by WDET]

Past USDA inspection reports obtained by WDET show multiple non-compliance incidents for Stacks’ animal care. During a yearly unannounced check-up in 2015, the USDA found that Stacks lacked all the appropriate paperwork for animals he was exhibiting, including vaccination records, as well as additional faults with his holding facilities. Reports from previous years show problems with the vehicle Stacks uses to transport animals, in addition to an accumulation of trash at his main holding site. The USDA gives an allotment of time for licensed exhibitors to correct incidents of non-compliance. The USDA says an official investigation is still pending.

Image credit: Eli Newman / WDET

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About the Author

Eli Newman

Reporter/Producer

Just a small guy with big ideas. Sharing content and culture at WDET 101.9 FM.

eli.newman@wdet.org   Follow @other_eli

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