Kangaroos and wallabies
Kangaroos and wallabies on the suburban fringe: a new relationship?
Watching a mother kangaroo or wallaby feeding while its joey fumbles around in her pouch is a special experience. When wild animals seem this placid and caring, it can be tempting to get close to them, touch them and even feed them. With regular feeding, a kangaroo or wallaby learns to approach people for food. Even without feeding, kangaroos and wallabies readily accept our presence if we show no aggression towards them. But, if we get too close, they may see us as a threat.
Kangaroos and wallabies that are used to being fed can approach people expecting food. When there is no food, they may become aggressive.
Today, people rarely live in close contact with large wildlife. As a result, we have lost much of our wariness and first-hand knowledge of these animals and how they live.
This means we can get too close to kangaroos and wallabies without thinking about the consequences. For kangaroos and wallabies living on the bushland fringe of a suburban area, a human may be seen as little more than a large animal living in its habitat - and one that they may occasionally need to defend themselves against.
There are occasions where people come into conflict with kangaroos and wallabies, usually due to a combination of the availability of attractive habitat and increasing urbanisation from an expanding population. Where these situations arise, landholders can take a number of actions to help reduce the impact of kangaroos and wallabies on their property.
To deter kangaroos or wallabies from gardens and lawns in residential areas, landholders are recommended to:
- appropriately fence their property to exclude these animals (note: some residential areas have covenants in place to retain wildlife corridors and fencing may not be permitted)
- limit the animals’ access to water on the property
- regularly mow lawns to reduce grass cover
- increase the coverage of other vegetation to reduce lawn size and grazing comfort
- use deterrent products like sonic deterrents or blood and bone fertilizer
- use motion activated security lights which may deter night time grazing.
Wild animals should never be seen as having set patterns of behaviour that they follow blindly. Individual animals have their own 'personalities' and learn in response to their experiences.
If a kangaroo or wallaby has been raised in captivity and released into the wild it may approach you demanding food by scratching and biting. It may even see you as another animal and start to kick and scratch as a form of 'play fighting' or to assert its dominance.
Kangaroos or wallabies that are injured or sick can also become defensive if approached and may be dangerous. In these situations, a trained wildlife rehabilitator should be contacted rather than approaching the animal yourself.
Kangaroos and wallabies are protected wildlife and a permit is needed to raise a joey in captivity. An important part of raising a joey is to ensure that it is capable of caring for itself in the wild without human assistance when it is released.
Living with kangaroos and wallabies
It is also important to know how you should behave around kangaroos and wallabies. The following information can help to make living near kangaroos and wallabies a safer and fascinating experience.
Enjoy your kangaroos or wallabies – but from a distance. If you enter an area where kangaroos or wallabies live, give them as much space as possible. If you see one, stay away from it and watch how it behaves. If it moves toward you, or shows signs of being aggressive, move away (even if it is only looking for food or human contact, a kangaroo or wallaby may still become aggressive). Don't act aggressively towards the kangaroo or wallaby, as this will simply reinforce the idea that you are a threat.
Dangerous situations may also arise where kangaroos and wallabies move into backyards or on to private property to feed. These can be avoided by fencing and removing sources of food or water that are attracting them.
Get to know your local mob. By watching the animals that live near you, you can learn to identify individuals by their appearance (e.g. size, sex, notches on their ears) and even give them names. You will also start to work out the relationships between individuals (e.g. who the dominant male is) and be able to follow the birth and growth of each new generation of joeys.
To feed or not to feed. The simple answer here is: don't feed. Feeding brings kangaroos and wallabies into close contact with people, creating potentially dangerous situations. Exposing them to an artificial diet may also cause health problems and create unnatural concentrations of animals.
And if a kangaroo or wallaby becomes aggressive. If you are approached by an aggressive kangaroo or wallaby you should keep it at a safe distance so that it can't kick or scratch. For example, hold up a stick or branch, or stay behind a fence or a tree. Move away from the animal as quickly as you can. Turning your back on it and running could be dangerous as a large male can easily outrun you and still kick at the same time. Turn side-on and protect the front of your body with your arms and keep your head as far away from the animal as possible to minimise the risk of being scratched on the face.
If it is a large male that has been displaying dominance behaviour, it may see you as a threat. Protect yourself and let the animal know you are not a threat by giving a short, deep cough, avoiding eye contact and crouching down as you move away.
Females and smaller male animals are less likely to be aggressive but may approach if they are used to being fed or have had a lot of human contact. Even though females are much smaller than males, they can scratch and kick and could pose a safety risk - particularly to small children.
As a last resort, if you can't escape an attacking kangaroo or wallaby, roll up into a ball on the ground with your arm covering your neck and call for help. Try to roll or crawl away to a safe place.
The kangaroo: an Aussie icon
The kangaroo is an Australian icon. Its size, strength and speed are traits that make it a natural logo or emblem for Australian organisations and sporting clubs. It is also part of our national coat of arms.
Kangaroos are also symbolic of another Australian trait: to stick up for yourself and not back down (with their large back feet and tail, kangaroos find it hard to move backwards). However, unlike their human counterparts, adult males fight their rivals to gain higher status within a local group or 'mob' and the dominant male will father the next generation of joeys.
But many people see large male kangaroos as placid grazing animals. The reality is that they can be aggressive towards people. Although the risk of this happening is very small, we still need to be wary around them.
Looking eye to eye at an eastern grey kangaroo
The eastern grey kangaroo readily adapts to altered landscapes that still provide shelter, water and grass to eat. Golf courses, outer suburban parks, rural residential areas and farmland can all provide habitat for eastern grey kangaroos.
Without fear of being hunted or disturbed, eastern grey kangaroos have had little inclination to move out of their traditional habitats and territories. They now tolerate our presence and we tolerate theirs, often enjoying the sight of one of our largest native animals at close quarters.
When it comes to looking eye-to-eye at such a large marsupial, it is important to understand how it can behave. Watching kangaroos can teach you a lot about their individual behaviour and how they act within a group.
Understanding the mob mentality
Eastern grey kangaroos are social animals living in groups called mobs. Each mob has a number of breeding females and their young, and several adult males. Only one dominant male will breed with all the females. This male defends its breeding rights by fighting other males. The other adult males in the mob may also "spar" with each other to establish their own position in the dominance hierarchy.
The dominant male watches over the females to see if they are ready to mate, and will sometimes follow one for days. Other males will also hang around the females and the dominant male will warn off these rivals if they get too close.
People who get too close to a dominant male when it is pursuing a female or mating could also be seen as a threat. Eastern grey kangaroos can breed throughout the year. This means that a dominant male will always be watching the females in his mob - and also keeping an eye on other males that may try to mate with these females or challenge his dominance.
Showing them who's boss
A dominant male kangaroo shows other males who's boss in a number of ways. Some behaviours it may display are:
- Walking slowly on all fours with its back arched to intimidate other males
- Rubbing its chest from side to side on the ground
- Grabbing onto grass tussocks and low shrubs with its forelimbs and rubbing its chest over them
- Standing erect by propping itself up on its tail and hindfeet, and urinating
- Fighting and sparring
If you see a kangaroo behaving like this, move away. Sub-dominant males will acknowledge the dominant male's status by giving a short cough. If there is no cough-response, a fight may result.
Protecting their young
Females with joeys that are old enough to be out of the pouch can also become aggressive if they feel that the presence of a person is a possible threat to their young.
A healthy respect
Kangaroos and wallabies size and strength are key parts of their character and warrant showing them a healthy respect.
The solution to living with kangaroos and wallabies is to have a relationship of mutual wariness and be ready to act if any potentially dangerous situations arise.
To lose the experience of being able to see this Australian wildlife icon simply from not understanding how they live, and how we should live with them, would be a tragedy.
Sick, injured or orphaned macropod
If you happen to come across sick, injured or orphaned wildlife, you should contact the RSPCA Qld.
Further information about what you can do if you come across a sick, injured or orphaned animal is available on the departmental website.
If you are having problems with an aggressive animal, contact us.
Aldenhoven, J., and Carruthers, G. (1992). Kangaroos-Faces in the mob. (documentary film) Green Cape Wildlife Films.
Poole. W.E. (2002). Eastern grey kangaroo, in Strahan, R. (ed.). The Mammals of Australia. Australian Museum/Reed New Holland, Chatswood NSW.