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The kangaroo is without a doubt Australia's most famous animal, with a unique anatomy not found on any other continent, and immortalized in the TV series Skippy. Ask anyone around the world to name an Australian animal and they will say kangaroo.
The kangaroo is part of the national Coat of Arms and there are about 40 million of them estimated to be hopping around the country, some species endangered, others in almost plague proportions, overall there are more kangaroos today than there were when the First Fleet arrived, settlers cut down forests to create vast grasslands for sheep and cattle grazing, added stock watering points in arid areas, and have substantially reduced the number of dingoes. The kangaroo was a very important animal to Australian Aborigines, for its meat, skin, bones and sinews, and there were important Dreaming stories and ceremonies involving the kangaroo.

Apparently the name 'kangaroo' originated when James Cook and his crew were in north Queensland fixing their ship and discovered this weird hopping animal. When the local Aborigines were asked what the name of this animal was they replied something like ' kang-goo-roo' . This was actually "gangurru" , from the Guugu Yimithirrr language, which is still spoken by the Aboriginal people in the area around Cooktown.
A common myth about the kangaroo's English name is that it came from the Aboriginal words for "I don't understand you." According to this legend, Cook and his naturalist Banks were out exploring when they spotted a kangaroo. They asked an Aborigine what this creature was called and he responded "Kangaroo", meaning "I don't understand you", which Cook took to be the name of the creature. European explorers and settlers regarded kangaroos as strange creatures that had heads like deer without antlers, stood upright like men, and hopped like frogs. Also the two-headed appearance of a mother kangaroo with joey in pouch caused people back in Europe to not take the explorers too serious. The first kangaroo to be seen in Europe was an animal shot by one of James Cook's crew in 1770, and stuffed by taxidermists who had never seen the animal in real life before.

The kangaroo is a common marsupial from the Macropodoidea (big foot) family, which also includes wallabies, tree-kangaroos, wallaroos, pademelons and the quokka. There are 62 species in Australia & Papua New Guinea that range in size from 1 kg - 90 kg and their soft, woolly fur can vary in color from blue, grey, red, black or yellow to brown, depending on the species. Females have a pouch in which the young live and drink milk. Kangaroos can hop up to 70 km/h and jump distances of 9 metres. They live up to 6 years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity. Most kangaroos are nocturnal (active at night). Some kangaroos are in danger of extinction, but others are considered pests due to the way they damage crops in large numbers and fill up waterholes that were intended for cattle.
An adult male kangaroo is called a buck, boomer or jack; an adult female is called a doe, flyer, roo, or jill.
A baby is called a joey. A group of roos is called a mob.

Kangaroo Road Sign T-Shirt

Kangaroo Sunset Side Print T-Shirt - Double Sided

Kangaroos of Australia T-Shirt

Kangaroos are herbivores (plant-eaters) and eat grass, leaves and roots and may graze in large mobs up to 14 hours a day, though they will rest in the shade during the hottest part of the day. They have specialised teeth for cropping grass and complex forestomachs for the breakdown of plant fibre by fermentation, they swallow their food without chewing it and later regurgitate a cud and chew it. They need little water; they can go for months without drinking, and they dig their own water wells. Kangaroos are unique in being the only large animals that use hopping to get around, they can walk at slow speeds and start hopping as speed increases. It takes some effort to start the hopping motion but once cruising speed is reached they use less energy than a similarly-sized animal that is running. Kangaroos and wallabies have large, stretchy tendons in their hind legs. They store elastic strain energy in the tendons of their large hind legs, providing most of the energy required for each hop by the spring action of the tendons rather than by any muscular effort. This is true in all animal species which have muscles connected to their skeleton through elastic elements such as tendons, but the effect is more pronounced in kangaroos.
Kangaroos range over most of Australia, though different species favour different areas:

The Red Kangaroo prefers the arid and semi-arid regions of inland Australia, they are the largest species of marsupial and stand up to 2 metre high with a tail that is over a metre in length and is used as a balance mechanism. Red kangaroos can't walk and are limited to hopping as a means of locomotion. However, they are able to jump ten metres in distance and two metres in height. For short periods they can attain a speed of 50 km/h. They can maintain a speed of 20km/h for hours on end .

Photo by Lyn Rose

The male red kangaroo is usually a reddish color and the female is bluish-gray, sometimes they are referred to as a blue flier.
The females are sexually mature at about eighteen months and the males at about two years.
Red kangaroo joeys remain in the pouch for 5-6 months. Over a period of 2-3 months they gradually spend more time away from the pouch usually weaned by one year of age, but normally remain close to the mother for another 6 months. In 1996 their numbers were estimated at ten million.

The Western Grey Kangaroo likes the dry regions of the inland lower half of the continent and W.A.
They look much like the Eastern grey kangaroo, but are slightly larger up to 54 kg. and vary in color, anywhere from greyish-brown to chocolate brown. The muzzle is covered in fine hair. The males are known as stinkers due to their strong, curry-like smell. They have no particular breeding season but most joeys are born in the summer. In 1996 their numbers were estimated at three million.


The Eastern Grey Kangaroo prefers the eastern third of the continent and is sometimes called a "forester", it is the heaviest marsupial in the world with a weight up to 45kg. They usually live in small groups but may congregate in larger numbers when feeding. They are usually active from late afternoon until early morning, resting in the shade during the day. They can hop across the grasslands at speeds of 60km/h doing hops up to 8 meters and able to jump as high as 3 meters.
Eastern greys usually give birth to a single young, weighing less than 1gram it is born after a pregnancy of 36 days. The joey will leave the pouch for short periods at about nine months of age, but continues to drink milk until it is about 18 months of age. In 1996 their numbers were estimated at ten million.

tree kangaroo
Tree kangaroo

Warning sign in the Atherton Tablelands

The tree kangaroo is only found in the rainforests of north Queensland (and New Guinea where it is knowns as 'man of the forest') , this shy animal lives up the trees and is not often seen.

mating kangaroos
Two kangaroos kangarooting
Photo courtesy of

Although the grey kangaroo can be a seasonal breeder, most female kangaroos are usually continuously pregnant and can have 3 babies at one time. One becoming mature and just out of the pouch, another developing in the pouch and one embryo in pause mode, she has the ability to freeze the development of an embryo until the previous joey is able to leave the pouch.. There are 4 teats in the pouch and each provides different milk for the different stages of development.
This is known as diapause, and will occur in times of drought and in areas with poor food sources.
The composition of the milk produced by the mother varies according to the needs of the joey. In addition, the mother is able to produce two different kinds of milk simultaneously for the newborn and the older joey still in the pouch. Roos are born partially developed after 30-40 days, hairless and blind. Immediately after birth, they crawl up the outside of their mother to the pouch where for the next 185 to 298 days they eat, sleep, and develop the rest of the way. When they fully develop they can leave the pouch, at this stage it is called a joey. During dry periods males will not produce sperm and females will only conceive if there has been enough rain to produce plenty of green vegetation.

Kangaroos are shy by nature, and in normal circumstances present no threat to humans. Male kangaroos often "box" amongst each other, playfully, for dominance, or in competition for mates. The dexterity of their forepaws is utilised in both punching and grappling with the foe, but the real danger lies in a serious kick with the hindleg. The sharpened toenails can disembowel an opponent. Large kangaroos can fight with the style of trained martial artists, even the tail is used in rotating jumps.

Kangaroo attack
Kangaroo attack

Kangaroos don't have a lot of predators these days, the Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger, considered to have once been a major natural predator of the kangaroo, is now extinct. Other extinct predators included the Marsupial Lion, Megalania and the Wonambi. But with the arrival of Aborigines in Australia at least 50,000 years ago and the introduction of the dingo about 5,000 years ago, kangaroos have had to adapt. The barking of a dog can send a kangaroo into a wild frenzy and when pursued by dogs they often head for water, standing submerged to the chest, and attempting to drown their attacker by holding him underwater. This has even happened in the middle of Canberra where kangaroos come in to city parks to eat the green grass and a simple walk in the park with the dog turned into traumatizing experiences for some people who had their dog killed after it chased a kangaroo. Another defensive tactic is to get their back to a tree and kick at their adversary with their clawed hind feet, sometimes with sufficient force to kill a man. There are a few records of kangaroos attacking humans in their gardens and on golfcourses, more on kangaroo attacks...
The only reliably documented case of a fatality from a kangaroo attack occurred in New South Wales, in 1936 when a hunter was killed when he tried to rescue his two dogs from a fight with a kangaroo.

Road sign, Australia
Kangaroo sign, Australia
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Kangaroos have good eyesight but and excellent hearing but this does not help them avoid traffic.
In outback areas, and sometimes even in and around cities, kangaroos can be a major hazard to traffic, or the traffic to them, depending on which side you choose to look at the problem.
Many Australian vehicles, especially those that do a lot of driving in remote areas, are fitted with roo bars to minimise damage caused by collision with kangaroos. You do need a solid bar on your car to get through a collision, many roo bars on cars are not designed to take the full impact of a decent size roo, and even then they may still hit your windscreen. Most importantly your radiator has a higher chance of surviving the impact so at least in a remote area you are not stuck and can keep driving to the nearest town. In the outback it is usually better to avoid driving at night, besides roos there are also cows that wander around freely.

dead kangaroo on the highway

Kangaroos have not evolved to learn about cars, when they are on the road they will freeze and stare in to your headlights, or while they are on the run they may try to get away but will often choose the path where they can see best at night, which is in the headlights in front of your car.
If you do happen to hit one you should see if it is a female and check her pouch for a surviving joey, in which case it can be brought to a wildlife sanctuary or animal rescue centre for rehabilitation.

feeding a joey

You can take on the task of rearing a rescued joey yourself. The rule-of-thumb says that if the joey is already covered with fur at the time of the accident it stands a good chance of growing up properly.
Lactose-free milk is essential, otherwise the joey may develop blindness. They will hop happily head first into a cloth bag when it is held in front of them approximately to the height where the mother's pouch would be, or hung on a doorknob. The joey's instinct is to "cuddle up", thereby endearing themselves to their keepers, but after hand-rearing a joey, it cannot usually be released into the wild and be expected to provide for itself.
Usually wildlife sanctuaries are willing to adopt kangaroos which are no longer practical to have at home.

Nowadays kangaroos do not only live in Australia, escaped pets or zoo animals have established small wild populations in England and in France. In the forests around Emance, west of Paris, kangaroos have been part of life for several decades.
In 1990 police in the Netherlands found a man unconscious next to his motorcycle, when he woke up he said that he had hit a kangaroo so he was breathalyzed but later found not to be under influence of alcohol. A kangaroo had actually escaped from a circus performing in the area.
Early 2003 a kangaroo escaped from an Austrian circus and started hopping around Vienna, the local emergency number was flooded with calls but they didn't know what to think as people's descriptions didn't go further than strange beast or weird animal, only the tenth or so caller identified it as a kangaroo.

While nowadays you can get a roo burger in many tourist places the consumption of their meat was banned for most of the 20th century. It certainly would have been much better for the Australian environment had people always eaten kangaroos rather than beef as the altering of the landscape by grazing cows has done some serious environmental damage. Kangaroos also emit less greenhouse gasses than cows! Despite having a similar diet to cows, who release large quantities of methane, kangaroos release virtually none. The hydrogen byproduct of fermentation is instead converted into acetate, which is then used to provide further energy. Scientists are interested in the possibility of transferring the bacteria responsible from kangaroos to cows, as the greenhouse gas effect of methane is 23 times more than that of carbon dioxide.
Kangaroo meat comes in a wide range of cuts and is widely available from supermarkets throughout Australia. It is very high in protein and iron but low in fat, usually less than 2% which is less than most other red meats so it should be cooked carefully to avoid drying out during cooking so it is important to follow a few simple steps to retain the moisture in the meat;

- Soak meat in oil for at least 15 min prior to cooking, then place in a very hot pan and quickly turn over to ensure all sides are 'seared', (browned). This will seal the moisture inside the meat.
- When pan frying the temperature can then be turned down a bit and the meat cooked to medium rare. If roasting it can be transferred to the oven, but do not cook further than medium rare.
Guide to cooking times
Stir Fry: (5mm thick) 1 minute maximum
Kebabs: (1.5cm cubes) 2 minute per side (leave space between cubes)
Medallions: Steaks (2.5cm thick) 2-3 minutes per side.
Roasts: Brown in pan then cook in pre-heated oven for 8-12 minutes per 500gms at 220 degrees Celsius or 15-20 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius (thick roasts may take longer than thin regardless of weight).
Kangaroo mince can be cooked exactly as other minces.

Did you know that millions of kangaroos, or around 18000 a day, are shot for meat and their skin? World famous soccer player David Beckham runs around on kangaroo skin soccer boots sponsored by Adidas.
California is the only state in the USA where it is illegal to bring in kangaroo products like kangaroo skin, this led to a situation in January 2008 where David Beckham was supposed to come and play a game in California but could not bring his favourite shoes with him, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger got involved in this too but we have not heard the outcome of this scenario yet...
You can read more about this cruel kangaroo industry on


The most famous kangaroo of all times as we all know is Skippy, even though his TV series only ran until 1971, after more than three decades he is still world famous.
In September 2003 a real life version of him saved the life of farmer Len Richards of Morwell, eastern Victoria by alerting his family that he was lying unconscious nearby. He had been checking a tree in a paddock about 300 metres from the house during stormy weather, when he was hit by a falling branch and knocked unconscious. The RSPCA said the 10-year-old western grey, known as "Lulu", should be nominated for a national bravery award and later she was awarded the National Animal Valor Award. Not only that, Lulu now has her own website where you can buy Lulu T-shirts, Lulu books, Lulu bumperstickers etc.


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