Kangaroos are probably the most iconic and distinctive of all Australian animals – they adorn Qantas tailfins, the one dollar coin and the Australian Made logo, and here’s another propping up one side of a real-life version of the Australian coat of arms in the Melbourne museum:
The generic name for all kangaroos is macropods (“large foot” for obvious reasons!), and there are loads of types ranging from smaller wallabies to larger kangaroos. In between there are no end of wallaroos, pademelons, quokkas and so on. Some of the differences seem rather subtle, which is another way of saying I haven’t a clue how to tell most of them apart. However if you ever ran into Procoptodon you’d probably know all about it – this was a 240kg extinct monster ‘roo. You never know what might still be lurking in the depths of the outback, but I’d be wary of anything that weighs quarter of a tonne and moves by bouncing.
Kangaroos are unique to Australia – I’d assumed they lived all over the antipodes, but it was only when a friend visited from New Zealand who was desperate to see some that I realised they only hang out here. There are some types of tree kangaroo in PNG – but then you could probably find almost anything in the depths of the rainforest there!
We get eastern grey kangaroos around here, which aren’t quite as big as the red kangaroos that live towards the arid centre. They’re still pretty hefty though – a big boomer (male) can get up to 2m tall and weigh 66kg. I’ve seen plenty that big, and if one attacked you would undoubtedly come off worse. However they’re pretty docile, and will just stand there staring at you, allowing you to get pretty close before hopping away. You see them boxing sometimes – I wouldn’t intervene if I were you. A couple of times I’ve nearly been knocked off my mountain bike after surprising some while riding the trails up around Han’s Loop. The trails are easily worth this minor risk though!
There are a lot of kangaroos in Australia – the Australian Wildlife Society reckons there are about 60 million – nearly three for every person, and about 20 times more than when Captain Cook arrived. Despite this we didn’t really see any in our three holidays here, even though we covered a fair chunk of the continent. Now we live here we know where and when to look – and yes, there are loads. Firstly they’re crepuscular (great word!) so you’re much more likely to see them hopping about early or late in the day, especially in open grassy spaces. During the day they generally hide away in the bush – their grey colouring is very good camouflage amongst the gum trees, although they’re not quite in the same league as tawny frogmouths.
Here’s a mother kangaroo with her joey – all baby marsupials are called joeys, not just kangaroos. If you ever wondered, almost all male marsupials including kangaroos do not have pouches. Sometimes the joeys perform weird contortions inside the pouch – it’s not uncommon to see either head or legs sticking out, and sometimes both.
And here’s one hopping. There really is no other animal in the world that moves like this – things like small mice can hop about, but the spectacle of a group of large animals bouncing along is truly unique.
Kangaroos are social animals, and hang out in groups called mobs that range from just a few to really pretty large. The field above is just up the road by the Memorial Tower at Kangaroo Ground (can’t imagine where they got the name!). We’ve seen a huge mob here of well over 100, all bouncing across this field at dusk which is truly a sight to behold. Of course I didn’t have the camera to hand…
Classic male “Are you looking at me?” pose.
Although kangaroos generally hop about, when they’re feeding and just want to move a short distance they make a tripod from their arms and big thick tail, and then shuffle their huge feet along. It looks pretty comical but works! These kangaroos don’t have scarves because it’s cold, they’ve been tagged and live down on beautiful Wilson’s Prom.