KANGAROO LEATHER is widely accepted as being one of the strongest light weight leathers available. Yet the reasons for this strength are not widely appreciated.

Studies conducted by the Australian CSIRO confirm that kangaroo is one of the strongest leathers of similar substance available (Stephens 1987).

Similarly when split into thinner substances kangaroo retains considerably more of the original tensile strength of the unsplit leather than does calf. When split to 20% of original thickness kangaroo retains between 30 to 60% of the tensile strength of the unsplit hide. Calf on the other hand split to 20% of original thickness retains only 1-4% of original strength (Stephens 1987).

Studies of the morphology of kangaroo leather compared to bovine help explain these remarkable differences.

The collagen fibre bundles in cattle hide are arranged in a complex weaving pattern. The fibres are often at angles as much as 90 degrees to the skin surface. Cattle hide also contain sweat glands, erector pili muscles and a distinct gradation in elastin levels, concentrated in the upper part of the skin.

Kangaroo on the other hand has been shown to have a highly uniform orientation of fibre bundles in parallel with the skin surface. It does not contain sweat glands or erector pili muscles and elastin is evenly distributed throughout the skin thickness (Bavinton et al 1987). This structural uniformity explains both the greater tensile strength of the whole leather and the greater retention of strength in splits. Bovine skin is much more complex in cross section. Hence in whole section it has many more weak point from which tears can start when placed under tension. In addition when sliced into splits the collagen fibres running at significant angles to the skin surface will be cut. These then become weak points in the structural strength.

Thus the structural uniformity in the morphology of kangaroo leather readily explains its dramatic strength and the retention of this strength when split.

This uniformity requires efficient fat liquoring and staking to obtain optimal results from processing. These processes have the effect of unsticking fibre bundles from each other, thereby enabling each bundle to move independently. Since kangaroo fibres are aligned parallel to each other they contact other fibres along much of their length. Bovine fibres on the other hand only contact other fibres at the points where they intersect with them.

This article was taken from NEWR - the bi-monthly official journal of the Australian Kangaroo Industry.

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