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.