Kangaroos

There is so much to write about kangaroos. We would love to know the information you are looking for so if you could please send us a question on the contact form,we will answer you and then put that in here too because others may be looking for the same information! All photos on this page are taken by Susie Rowe – copyright ©. We are limited by space on this page for many photos but there are 24 photos for you to see on the Sponsoroo page “Kanga Gallery” and several more on the other pages.

In scientific terms, kangaroos belong to a superfamily named Macropodoidea. That is because there are several different shapes and sizes of kangaroos and their relatives – great diversity. You see, the classification of these animals is that they have powerful hindlimbs and long feet. You may have heard of the term ‘macropod‘ which means “great – footed”. There are about 60 different species within this superfamily.  So, this superfamily is then split into 2 groups and our kangaroos and their relatives belong to the group named Macropodidae. Within this group there are also a number of different species, including our kangaroos, several species of different wallabies, wallaroos, pademelons and tree-kangaroos. These species all vary greatly in their size and their weights ranging from about 3kg  up to the magnificent big Red Kangaroo male who might weigh 90kg. (The other group within the superfamily is called the Potoroidae and they are much smaller species weighing usually less than 2-3kg). All macropods (except the little Musky Rat-kangaroo) use their powerful hindlimbs and long feet to hop when they move along at speed, it is a very effective way to cover long distances. At this time they use their tail streaming out behind them, as a counter-balance – magnificent to watch. Their short arms and hands are tucked into their chest or dangling in front or beside them. However when they have their heads down and are grazing, they use their hands and tails to lean on and take their weight and swing their legs forward together or they shuffle their feet forward one at a time.

Kangaroos are herbivores (vegetarians) and eat a variety of plants and grasses. When the variety is there, they move from one plant to a different type which would help them with their nutrition. They mainly feed at night starting at dusk and then from soon after dawn go off to find shelter during the day where they lie down and sleep. Usually they don’t sleep solidly because they are always on high alert. They have a very acute sense of hearing so their ears are almost constantly moving around so they can be aware of sounds. They do not like the wind because it masks the other sounds.

Kangaroos, in fact all macropods, belong to the group of mammals known as marsupials. (There are 3 groups of mammals – marsupials, placentals and monotremes. Mammals have several characteristics one of them being that the mother feeds milk to her young from her mammary glands.) The main characteristic of marsupials is that the mothers give birth to a tiny baby which is naked, blind and not developed, it is still an embryo. As you scroll down, there is more about the birth of a kangaroo because we need to tell you about it,  it is AMAZING! Sometimes you will read that the main characteristic of a marsupial is that the mother has a pouch but this is not quite right. Sometimes the baby does not live in a pouch but only has a fold of skin for protection. Also in some species, the pouch may be a temporary arrangement, only formed during the breeding season and it disappears again when the young has finished with it. Kangaroos do have a pouch – only the mothers, not the fathers. The pouch opens forwards and inside has 4 teats. (Some marsupial pouches open towards the back – like that of a wombat).

The many different species of kangaroos are adapted to different habitats found throughout Australia. Unfortunately, due to human intervention and ‘development’ in rural and urban areas, a great many communities of kangaroos and other Australian native fauna have had to adapt to lesser preferred habitats.

From here I am mainly going to refer to 3 species of kangaroos – Red, Eastern Grey and Western Grey. If you need other information, please ask!

                   

 Above, on the left is a young Red female, in the middle a young Eastern Grey male and on the right a young Western Grey male. Can you see differences in their features? Their different colouring - for instance the Reds have white tips on their tails, the Eastern Greys have black, the Western Greys are more of a chocolate brown overall. It may be a bit difficult to see the blue-silver-grey of the female Red in this photo but it is because of that colour that the females are called Blue-Fliers. Their coats are different to each other, the Reds and Western Greys are finer and feel softer than the Eastern Greys who have coarser hair. You may notice in the photos that the Reds have a squarer nose while the Greys are a bit pointier and the Reds have a lot of white hair on their nose.

Let’s start from the beginning …. of each kangaroo’s life …. their birth, this most amazing feat of nature.

Firstly the mother licks and cleans her pouch and fur on the outside. She will then sit back into this position (this is a Red Kangaroo).

The tiny embryo joey who is about 2cm long is born from the mother’s cloaca – the opening of the body down between the legs and comes out to the outside world. He/she then makes his/her way, all by him/herself without help from mother, using his/her little tiny hands, up through the mother’s fur to the rim of the pouch then wriggles down the inside of the pouch to the bottom, where he/she latches on to one of 4 teats. The inside of the pouch does not have hair, it is warm clammy skin. That takes about 3 minutes!

The baby then grows and develops inside the mother’s pouch. Mother keeps a close eye on her baby, she licks and cleans him/her and as he/she grows she kisses him/her and teaches him/her about their world. They form a very close bond and love each other very much. Usually the mother carries the baby until they are big and heavy like in this photo – see the feet sticking out and the big bulge of the body inside the pouch! (This is an Eastern Grey Kangaroo)

The time the joey spends in the pouch varies from species to species. When the joey has developed the hair – which is the last thing they need to develop, they start to get out for a little hop. To begin with it is for just a minute or 2 – it’s a bit scary out there! Gradually they spend more time out and begin to explore the world – never far from Mum.

A Red joey leaves the pouch for the last time when they are 8 months old. The mother then, within hours, gives birth to the next little embryo who has been developing inside and waiting for this moment for about 8 months! That little embryo makes his/her way to the bottom of mother’s pouch and latches on to a different teat – on the other side of the pouch to the teat of the last joey, who is now called the at-foot joey. Usually there is a big Red male hanging around Mum at this time, so very soon after the birth they mate and starts the process all over again!

The process of the embryo waiting inside is called ‘embryonic diapause’. The at-foot Red joey continues to feed from his/her teat for about 4 months. He/she is also eating grass alongside Mum. Mothers can feed different milks to the at-foot joey, the little one developing inside the pouch and of course the little embryo developing within her body! Wow what a clever girl!

Greys have a different process. Eastern Grey mothers might re-mate when the joey in their pouch is about 5 or 6 months – you can see a small bump at the bottom of the pouch by this stage. Their joey leaves the pouch for the last time at about 10 months old. This joey stays close to Mum and continues to drink milk for about 4 more months – often it is for longer. So, again the mother is producing different types of milk for the at-foot joey and for the little one developing in the pouch.

Western Greys do not have ‘embryonic diapause’ so they do not mate until after the first joey is born. The joey stays in the pouch for just a bit shorter time than an Eastern grey and continue to drink milk from their mother for about 4 months as an at-foot joey.

As you can see from these photos, kangaroos can have twins but it is a very rare sight because a mother simply cannot carry 2 developing joeys to full size. Unfortunately one joey has to leave the pouch which must be the most horrible situation for all concerned. (These are Eastern Greys).

 

When questioned, on arriving to Australia, as to what they would most like to see while they are here, tourists often say that kangaroos are on top of the list. Kangaroos are most definitely one of Australia’s best known and best loved icons.

Why is it then that so many people within Australia are apathetic towards them? Did you know that kangaroos are in deep trouble here in Australia? Ever since non-Aboriginal people came to this country, they have considered kangaroos to be pests, to be a nuisance on farming land where there are crops or  to be competition on grazing land for domestic animals. There is a big industry now created around killing these beautiful animals, to market their meat, to market their fur, to market other parts of them. The cruelty involved is horrendous. When they kill the mother they kick the joey to death, they bash the joey until they die or the joey escapes and then dies a lonely horrid death without his/her mother to nurture and protect him/her. There is also a lot of illegal shooting and hunting of kangaroos, too many people just seem to think it is totally acceptable to go out and torture and kill these treasures for fun or allow their dogs to savage them to death.

The best thing you can do for kangaroos is to not buy any products that involve the killing of kangaroos. Products are sometimes found in tourist shops - like skins and body parts – yucko. Tell the shop owner that there has been a lot of cruelty to get those things, that joeys have lost mothers or fathers to make that product. Usually the joeys are bashed or kicked to death by the shooters or sometimes if they escape they die a horrible death because they don’t have their mother any more to look after them. They also sell meat for pets or humans – avoid that  totally. That meat was not from animals who were killed in an abattoir like cows and sheep - a nice clean germ free environment.  Kangaroos are shot out in the paddock at night (while they are happily grazing with their friends and family), dragged through the dirt, bits chopped off them out there, hung on the back of a truck for a few hours while the shooter keeps shooting and then eventually – a lot of km later taken to a fridge. Healthy? We don’t think so.  There is way too much cruelty involved just so that people can make money out of these products.

Please help kangaroos by speaking out for them.  Help to be the voice they need. Urge people to protect them.