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Skippy, Kangaroos and Wallabies
I have this memory as a teenager, when we first learnt that we were coming to Australia to live, of expecting to see a kangaroo hopping down the streets of Sydney... this was back in the early 1970s... now that I am older, I realise I was then, 150 years to late.
Kangaroos are one of those animals that visitors to Australia would like to see in the flesh. It is one of Australia's national icons, emblazoned across across the skies on what we once proudly called our Australian national carrier (but that is another story...), although they still cling to the symbol on their air planes.
Australia's love affair with the kangaroo came to the fore with the TV series 'Skippy... the bush kangaroo'. Produced in the late 1960s, the series achieved international acclaim bringing Australia to the notice of people in the USA and Canada. The show was dubbed into Spanish and became popular in Spanish speaking countries around the world, including Cuba, Mexico and Spain. The show even crossed the Iron Curtain, as well as being broadcast in places like Iran. With over 80 countries seeing the series, it is no surprise that 'kangaroos' became well known, and one of those must see attractions for travellers visiting Australia.
Skippy was a female Eastern Grey Kangaroo, with the series being shot in northern Sydney in places like the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and the former Waratah Park (today known as the Waratah Park Earth Sanctuary).
The kangaroo is emblazoned in the Australian Coat of Arms, together with another national emblem, the Emu. Appearing on a range of 'coat of arms' and coins, the kangaroo has been used in logos, public art, designs, mascots and the naming of sports teams. There is an island off the coast of South Australia known as Kangaroo Island, whilst places like Woolloomooloo is said to mean 'young kangaroo'.
Whilst there are some myths on how the kangaroo got its name, the official answer is said to be, that the word comes from 'gangurru', a word of the Indigenous Guugu Yimidhirr tribe, that refers to a grey kangaroo found in their region. The word was recorded by the botanist Sir Joseph Banks as 'kangaru' when the Endeavour was damaged on the Great Barrier Reef near Cooktown. Forced to stay for several weeks whilst repair was being made to the Endeavour, Banks had plenty of time to make notes on the flora and fauna, although he had trouble translating some words into the written form.
The kangaroo have been a food source for the Indigenous people of Australia, continuing even today. Kangaroos have become pest in some areas of Australia, ended up being pet food and now on the plate of gourmet dishes, with the pelts made into all sorts of tourist souvenirs.
Kangaroo, Wallaroo, Euro, Wallaby
Belonging to the genus Macropus (for those into Latin) in the family Macropodidae (or macropods, meaning 'great-footed'), the Macropus is a group of marsupials more commonly known as kangaroos, wallaroos and wallabies, being just some of the names. Marsupials are mammals that we know have pouches, where having given birth to live young, they raise their young in their pouches.
There are 4 species that are kangaroos, with over 40 different species of wallabies and pademelons or about 60 species all up of the family Macropodidae.
Across Australia there are a number of local names for the different species of kangaroos and wallabies, kangaroos being the largest of our herbivorous marsupials, that include the Red Kangaroo, the Eastern Grey and the Western Grey kangaroos. The largest is the Red Kangaroo also known as the 'Blue Flyer' in the west, which refers to the female because of the blue-grey fur, although in the eastern states the female are a 'bluish grey' and the males are red (varying from a pale to a strong brick red). In Central Australia, especially around Alice Springs, kangaroos are known by a number of names including Hills Wallaroo, Eastern Wallaroo, Hills Kangaroo, Hill Wallaroo or the Euro.
Colloquially referred to as roos, the male of the species are called bucks, boomers, jacks or old men. Females are known as does, flyers or jills, with the young being called joeys.
These wonderful creatures, are often on must see attractions lists when visiting Australia. Found throughout rural and outback Australia, they can often be seen whilst driving through the bush, along rural outback road. Unfortunately it is a fact, that kangaroos are often seen at dust and dawn, along main roads and highways feeding on the grass along the verge. This is also when accidents happen, especially with speeding vehicles and kangaroos, as the two don't mix. Kangaroos are often blinded by headlights, and very unpredictable as to the direction they will jump. Often is the case they will jump in one direction, then suddenly head in the other, and then just as suddenly turn back. Of course some drivers swerve to miss the roos and end up rolling their vehicle. When hiring vehicles, some companies have strict policy on driving at dust and dawn (most probably there would be no insurance cover for such accidents if driven at these times).
For those lucky to see a group of kangaroos, we Australians call them 'a mob'. Funny enough, the non-city indigenous people also use the term... 'eh, what you mob doing over there?' or 'where u mob from?'. It can indeed be a thrilling sight to see a mob of big red roos bounding in the distance. Even one kangaroo, bounding alongside your vehicle is thrilling. I remember once driving through the Little Desert National Park, when suddenly this big red appeared out of nowhere, and for about five minutes (although it seemed longer) we had this kangaroo, keeping pace with our vehicle as we drove along this dirt track. Lucky for it and for us, there was a fence between us. I could tell you about the emus on the same track, but that has to be another story...
It has been an interesting revelation, here in Central Australia, that sometimes we would pass a recently killed kangaroo on the edge of the highway, missing its tail. Kangaroos, being found in the dreamtime stories of the various indigenous tribes, also are important as a food source. In particular, the tail is highly prized and so sometimes, if a kangaroo is a fresh road kill, the tail would be cut off for a meal. Of course, if the kangaroo is your totem, then you would not eat your totem.
For those who are unable to get out bush, for the chance of seeing kangaroos in their natural habitat, the next best thing are some of the many wildlife parks and zoos, where chances are they will have some kangaroos and most likely you will be able to get up close for those perfect photographic opportunity. If you are close to a rescue centre, that allow visitors, you may even be lucky to get up close to some of the rescued wildlife.
In Alice Springs, we have the Kangaroo Sanctuary, just south of town. Many a visitor have made the trip out to the rescue centre to be thrilled by the owner Brolga, who is a font of knowledge, and cares deeply about his work with injured kangaroos. Here you get a chance to see his work with the injured kangaroo and if you are lucky, you may even get a chance to hold a joey, rescued from the pouch of its dead mother.
This picture we have of a rescued baby red kangaroo came from Uluru and was being delivered to a wonderful wildlife carer in Alice Springs. When we arrived in Alice Springs, the carer permitted us to take a photo - this was her 14th rescued joey that she would be looking after at the same time.
Sometimes they can pop up when you least expect it, we had booked into a cabin in a camping and caravan park in Halls Gap. So we were surprised by the number of Eastern Grey Kangaroos that appeared at dust and dawn, mainly to feed on the green grass in the camping site. We found it is quite common in many places in Australia, mainly in bush areas, that where there is grass to their liking, kangaroos can often be found feeding during early morning or late afternoon.
Another great place to see kangaroos is the wildlife haven Greens Bush in the Mornington Peninsula National Park, where the largest population of Eastern Grey Kangaroos on the Mornington Peninsula can be found, with Highfield providing a good viewing point.
Mount Kaputar National Park near Narrabri provides opportunities to see Eastern Greys, Wallaroos and Swamp Wallabies, especially for those camping or booked into the onsite parks cabins. For those visiting the south coast of New South Wales, the Murramarang National Park near Batemans Bay, is famous for the mob of Eastern Grey Kangaroo that have adapted well to sharing their habitat with people and are frequently seen near the beaches and in the campgrounds, where they pass the time of day dozing until dusk, where they gather to feed.
Kangaroo Island is located off the coast of South Australia. A popular tourist destination, it is home to a subspecie of the Western Grey. For those who are travelling inland through South Australia, there is the Bordertown Wildlife Park, home of the white kangaroo, a genetic strain of the Western Grey. From the birth of the first joey in 1984, the number of white kangaroos have increased with a number of them being sent to other wildlife parks around Australia.
For those visiting Western Australia there are two mains species being the Western Grey Kangaroo and the Red Kangaroo, also known in this region as the 'Blue Flyer'. Whilst the grey kangaroo can sometimes be seen feeding around the many golf course fairways, some of the best chances for seeing kangaroos in the wild are WA's national parks and nature reserves both north and south of Perth.
In Queensland Toorbul Point and beach, north of Brisbane, the kangaroos have right of way in the street and foreshore. Here visitors can see them grazing in the late afternoon. Whilst Grey Kangaroos in particular can be seen around settlements along the Queensland coast, they are also found inland, with Red Kangaroos to be seen in the arid region of the Diamantina National Park and Munga-Thirri National Park.
If you are in Alice Springs, there is the Alice Springs Desert Park and the local kangaroo rescue centre, providing some great opportunities for having close-up digital snaps of the kangaroo. Euros can often be seen at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station. If you are there later in the day, take some of the self-guided walks into the bush, and keep your eyes peeled for any shapes under bushes and trees, as they can sometimes be seen sheltering from the heat of the sun.
Central Australia and Alice Springs is also home to our smaller marsupial, the Black-footed Wallaby. The popular Simpsons Gap, just out of town is a great place to spot them. Many a tour guide have convinced their group of the chance of seeing a wallaby, feigning excitement as they approach the information booth, only to hear a big chuckle as they realise it is a realistic looking statue. Although they are reassured there is a colony of wallabies living in the range above Simpsons Gap. For those that are early enough in the morning, or there at the right time in late afternoon, you may catch them descending down the range, to drink and feed on the tender shoots in the sandy river bed.
Of course wallabies tend to be shy, elusive creatures and you need a sharp pair of eyes to make their shape against the backdrop of the rocks. Whilst wallabies can be seen at Simpsons Gap and from the range in Olive Pink Botanic Garden, if you have missed out on seeing them, you can pop down to the Heavitree Gap Lodge. For a small fee, you can pick up a bag of pellets to feed the wallabies that live here on the range.
From late afternoon, they descend down from the range to be fed and drink water. During the right times, you may even catch a glimpse of the joey in the mother's pouch. We were lucky once to see a Euro who had also come down to feed.
There was an occasion at Heavitree Gap when a dingo was stalking this population of wallabies, dramatically reducing their numbers and scaring the others from coming down. Once the dingo was moved on, the wallabies returned, enjoying the free feed.
So when planning your holiday to Australia, whilst seeing a kangaroo or wallaby in the wild cannot always be guaranteed, you can improve your chances by checking out some of the places I have listed. Tour operators local to your destination are usually always very knowledgeable and may include sighting kangaroos as part of the tour. Another great local resource is the visitor information centre for your destination who may be able to advise the likeliest of place to see kangaroos and wallabies. Of course, to get up close, you will have to opt for some of the wilderness parks and zoos, or places where the kangaroos are familiar with humans being around.
Ten Facts About Kangaroos
- The Red Kangaroo (Macropus rufus) is the largest marsupial and the largest of the kangaroo species, with the male measuring up to 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) in height. The smallest is the Lesser Forest Wallaby (Dorcopsulus vanheurni) that lives in New Guinea and is about the size of a rat.
- Groups of kangaroos are called "mobs". They are also known as troop or court. Kangaroos tend to live in groups of about 10 or more individuals, although in some places they can reach epidemic numbers.
- A baby kangaroo is called a Joey. The female kangaroo can have at the same time whilst carrying a fecundated egg in the womb, be carrying a newborn in the pouch (marsupium) and a larger offspring (joey). When a kangaroo is born, it is blind and has no fur. It takes about 3 minutes for the joey to work its way to the pouch, where it suckles and stays put until it gets fur. The larger joey that may have ventured out of the pouch will return to the pouch for feeding on the mother's milk, but from a different teat that produces a different type of milk for the older joey.
- Male kangaroos are also known as a buck, boomer, jack or old man. A female kangaroo is a doe, flyer or jill.
- Different kangaroos can eat different things but all are herbivores. They all eat grass (including certain types of spinifex grass), certain types of leaves (but not Eucalyptus and Acacia leaves) and tree bark. Eastern Greys eat predominantly grass, whilst the Red Kangaroo will aslo eat a variety of shrubs. Some of the smaller species of kangaroo will eat fungi. Kangaroos are also known to eat farm crops and vegetables in people's garden. Species such as the musky-rat kangaroo will eat insects. In wildlife parks they may be fed dry vegetarian style food. Tree kangaroos have a broader diet and that may include leaves, sap, flowers, fruit and bark.
- Kangaroos (only the males) fight by standing on their rear legs. They can fight with their front legs and kick with their rear legs.
- Kangaroos warn of danger by thumping their hind legs on the ground. The sound can carry for a long distance. Just the sudden movement of a kangaroos can send other roos into flight.
- Kangaroos can swim and can escape a threat by entering water. They have been known to drown predators (dingoes and wild dogs) whilst in the water. They have also been known to phsically injure people.
- The giant short faced Pleistocene kanagroo (Procoptodon goliah) became extinct some 40,000 years ago and were thought to be between 2-3 metres in height.
- There are tree kangaroos that live in north-eastern Australia and New Guinea.