By now, many of us have seen the video gone viral of a man facing off against a kangaroo to save his dog. In this situation, things turned out OK for all involved — but what would have motivated the kangaroo to react the way it did?
While watching the video, it occurred to me that while many of us know a few basic facts about kangaroos — they’re in Australia, they hop and they carry their young in pouches — we struggle to come up with anything deeper concerning kangaroos.
With that being the case, let’s take an in-depth look at this awesome animal.
According to the National Museum of Australia, kangaroos were “discovered” by Europeans when Captain Cook of the HMB Endeavor returned to England in 1771. In a few short years, the kangaroo came to epitomize the Australian continent, appearing on currency, stamps and logos.
But kangaroos had been around a lot longer than that. In Kangaroos: Biology of the Largest Marsupials, author Terence J. Dawson explains: “The extensive radiations of the kangaroos and their relatives accompanied the drying out of Australia and the spread of grasslands. This process was well underway by 4–5 million years ago, in the Pliocene period, when the first species clearly related to the modern gray kangaroos and wallaroos began to appear in the fossil record.”
Kangaroos today — including the red kangaroo, antilopine kangaroo, eastern and western gray kangaroos — are similar to their ancestors, though a bit smaller. For example, one ancestor was called the Macropus Titan. A giant kangaroo? Yikes — let’s just say I’m glad I’m alive now and not then.
Kangaroos tend to gather in groups called “aggregations.”
Think of this like a human family unit. These aggregations will often come together in larger groups, aptly called “mobs.” For us, it would be like several families joining together for a holiday party. The purpose of all this socializing is for safety. Many kangaroos working together can more easily spot a predator.
Again, like human families, kangaroos can exist harmoniously or aggressively. Laid-back roos will engage in patting or stroking each other’s noses or faces, mutual grooming and stroking a female’s pouch. Many younger kangaroos will also play-fight, much like young kittens or puppies who engage in wrestling matches.
When kangaroos really fight about things like mating rights, it can be dangerous and deadly. National Geographic’s video demonstrates just how hardcore these animals are when they battle. Their real weapons are their extremely strong legs and feet, capable of disemboweling or even killing their opponent.
Kangaroos have a short gestation period. After the egg is fertilized, the baby roo is born 30–45 days later, and he’ll only be a few centimeters long. His hind legs won’t be fully developed yet, but he’ll use his stronger front legs to climb into his mother’s pouch.
Once he makes it in safely, he’ll find a teat to latch onto for nourishment. He’ll spend roughly another 230 days growing. As he gets bigger and more developed, he’ll start peeking outside the pouch.
Gradually, the roo will get bolder and leave his mother’s pouch for short periods of time. When he’s fully ready, he’ll leave the pouch for good and start eating what his parents eat, namely vegetation. In the wild, he’ll live for perhaps 6 years, although some kangaroos in captivity, with no worries of predators or vehicles, have lived to be 20.
This cute kangaroo isn’t threatened — he’s just palling around with his Rottweiler friend:
Kangaroos and People
In general, kangaroos tend to be shy and avoid people, but there have been cases when kangaroos have gone on the offensive.
In October 2016, a kangaroo became inadvertently trapped in a backyard, attacked the homeowners, and mauled and killed the family’s Pomeranian. In July 2011, a 94-year-old woman was attacked in her backyard while she was hanging laundry (she survived).
Like deer, kangaroos can also become panicked and blinded by headlights or sounds of oncoming vehicles. They often reach weights of several hundred pounds and speeds of 50 miles per hour, so when you accidentally hit one, the risk of injury or death to both you and the kangaroo is high.
Kangaroos may attack when they panic or become trapped or threatened. So it’s best to avoid kangaroos — they are wild animals and are more than capable of inflicting injury. If you live in Australia, take precautions to leash your dogs, because kangaroos have proven to be quite dangerous when provoked.