Of course kangaroos are associated with Australia, and most Aussies are comfortable about sharing the country with skippies (as we sometimes call them). But visitors from overseas can be quite unsure about what to expect. Will there be roos hopping around in suburban streets? Well no, that’s unlikely, although you might see some on golf courses (where there’s usually lots of nice green grass). Could I be attacked by kangaroos? Again no, not unless you corner one. But if you do get into a stoush with a kangaroo, you should know that a large kangaroo is capable of causing serious injury or even death. See http://www.amazingaustralia.com.au/animals/kangaroo_attacks.htm
The kangaroo population of Australia is variously estimated at up to about 50 or 60 million, with the great majority of these living in rural and remote areas. So that’s more than two for every person in the country. Commercial hunters are licensed to kill a few million kangaroos a year (which distresses some people), and kangaroo meat for human consumption is available in most supermarkets.
(Photo by Ole Hartling)
Tens of thousands of kangaroos are killed on the roads each year. When travelling in remote areas, most drivers are used to keeping an eye out for kangaroos suddenly jumping out in front of them, especially at dawn and dusk, and many vehicles have strong metal “roo bars” (or bull bars) fitted at the front to (hopefully) minimise damage to the vehicle when this happens. But the risk occurs not only in remote areas – it’s been reported that kangaroos account for about 90% of animal-related road accidents in Canberra, the nation’s capital.
Visitors to Australia sometimes say things like “We’ve travelled on a bus all the way from Darwin to Alice Springs, and we haven’t seen a single kangaroo. We thought there were lots of them. Where are they?” Well, the simple answer is they’re not standing around beside major highways. Skippies aren’t stupid, you know! Get yourselves onto some quieter and/or unsealed roads, and you may see quite a few of them, although bear in mind that in warm weather, they’ll probably be resting in the shade somewhere in the middle of the day, and also there are of course some areas without many kangaroos. As some of my passengers have been heard to say, “There’s some more kangaroos. Boring!!”
A few years ago, I was asked by an American child, “Why don’t kangaroos just walk? It’s a lot easier than hopping.” I think he was contemplating how difficult it would be for him to hop all the way to school. I had to reflect on that for a moment, but soon realised that kangaroos can’t “just walk”, that is, they can’t move their back legs independently. The two large legs always move in tandem. But it’s said to be a very energy-efficient mode of travel, and they can certainly get up a good speed – 40 kph can be sustained for at least two kms, and up to 70 kph for short distances. Go skippy!