The kangaroo is one of the best known and most popular animals in Australia. The large marsupial is found exclusively in Australia and as a tree kangaroo in New Guinea. Although it is difficult to determine the exact population of kangaroos Down Under, it is estimated that there are more than 50 million of these skipping fellows across the country – that’s more kangaroos than residents!
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The origin of the kangaroo
Around 30 million years ago, in the Australian rainforest, a small animal resembling a possum came down from the tree tops to transform into variations of the unique creatures as we know them today. One of them was a giant kangaroo, the Procoptodon goliah. It weighed several hundred kilograms and became extinct around 15,000 years ago.
Since then, the famous red kangaroo still roams the plains of Australia. Weighing up to 90 kilograms, it is now the largest living marsupial.
The name kangaroo derives from the Aboriginal “Gangurru“. The story goes that when Europeans saw this strange animal, they asked an aborigine for its name and he replied gangurru, meaning “I don’t understand”! However this was later debunked by John B. Haviland during his linguistic research on the Guugu Yimidhirr people.
Where can I see kangaroos?
Kangaroos are very numerous in Australia, so you’ll be able to see them just about anywhere in the country. Of course, if you’re staying in the cities, that’s going to complicate things! Here are a few places where you’re sure to come across kangaroos in the wild on your trip to Australia:
- Pebbly Beach, Jervis Bay, Kosciuszko NP (NSW)
- Bunya Mountains National Park, Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park (QLD)
- Great Ocean Road & Grampians (VIC)
- Kangaroo Island, Flinders Ranges National Park (SA)
- Lucky Bay (WA) to see kangaroos on the beach
- In the Australian outback and bush, if you go a little inland, you’re sure to come across some 🙂
Special features of the kangaroo
The kangaroo is a nocturnal animal that lives in groups. It spends its days resting and comes out in the late afternoon and evening to feed, mainly on grass and leaves.
It uses its tail as a tripod when resting and as a pendulum when jumping. The kangaroo moves using its powerful jumps, up to 3 metres tall and 9 metres long. Jumping is an efficient way for kangaroos to get around – some have been clocked at speeds of up to 64 kilometres an hour.
There are more than forty species of kangaroo. Of these, the red kangaroos are the best known. The male can measure up to 1.8 metres and weigh up to 90 kg.
The kangaroo’s diet
Kangaroos are mainly herbivores. Their diet consists mainly of plants, including grasses, leaves, flowers, shoots and fruit. They are well adapted to a diet low in nutrients and are able to digest the cellulose present in plants efficiently.
Kangaroos also have a specialised digestive system for processing fibrous foods. They spend a large part of their day feeding, mainly in the early morning and late afternoon, when temperatures are cooler. They move over vast areas in search of food, travelling long distances in search of suitable pasture.
The baby kangaroo is called Joey. Being a marsupial, the kangaroo gives birth to newborns in the embryonic stage of 4 weeks where the joey measures no more than 2cm. It goes straight into its mother’s pouch, which contains four “teats”. Each will supply a different type of milk depending on the baby’s stages of development. The baby will then attach itself to one of the nipples and will not leave it until it is able to feed itself (around 5 to 6 months later). The baby will live in its mother’s pouch and feed on her milk until then.
The female kangaroo keeps an embryo “on standby”, which will then develop once the baby already in the pouch emerges. A kangaroo can have up to 3 young at the same time. One baby out of the pouch, one in the pouch and a third “waiting” in the uterus.
Threats to the species
Unlike the other icon of Australia, the koala, the kangaroo is not an endangered species. In fact, there are more kangaroos in Australia than inhabitants… However, in recent years, extreme weather conditions have had an impact on Australian wildlife. These include devastating bushfires that have killed more than a billion animals in Australia. Floods have also hit the country, killing many animals. On top of this, periods of drought have led to the death of many animals in the country.
So even if the species is not threatened, it has to survive the country’s extreme climatic conditions. These conditions are worsening with global warming.
Danger to humans
Although you might think that the kangaroo is harmless, this is not the case!
Kangaroos are not generally aggressive. However, if they are approached too closely or if they feel threatened, they may stand up on their hind legs and attack. With its powerful hind legs and long claws, an attacking kangaroo can do a lot of damage – especially if it’s a large, territorial male!
In September 2022, the first fatal kangaroo attack for almost a century was recorded. A kangaroo killed a 77-year-old man who was keeping it as a pet. So it’s always important to remember that these are wild animals and to interact with them accordingly.