Australian Animals
and Birds

Some True Facts
about the

- Kangaroo -

The kangaroo is generally recognised as the animal symbol of Australia, and one appears on the nation's coat of arms as a 'bearer' helping to hold up the shield. You'll also find one painted on aircraft owned by QANTAS (Australia's main airline), used as a logo on Australian made goods and in many other places.

Kangaroos are normally very gentle animals, and a few people in rural areas look after one (especially a female) as a pet. You won't find them hopping down the main street in towns, but there are not many areas of Australia outside towns where you cannot see one variety or another.

There are many species of kangaroos, and they vary in size from the height of a tall man, down to about 30cm (or one foot). Most of the smaller ones are called wallabies, and, apart from their size, there is no other major difference. The one in the story is a Red Kangaroo. This is the commonest species.

Red Kangaroos live in open scrub and grassland all over the country, sometimes in mobs of over a hundred individuals. Hops of 8 metres (25 feet) are common and they can easily leap over fences 2.5 metres (8 feet) high. (Some people say they've seen them hop 12 metres (40 feet) in a single bound, and over obstacles as tall as 3.5 metres (nearly 11 feet).)

Kangaroos belong in a special family call the Macropods - which means 'big feet'.

The older males are called 'boomers'. Occasionally they will fight each other by leaning back on their tail and, apparently, boxing. In this position, they also kick out with their hind legs, trying to tear their opposition's tummy. They will attack a human this way too, if they feel cornered and frightened, and can then be dangerous. Similarly, at night, if they jump into the path of a car and end up breaking the windscreen and joining the occupants inside, in such a frightened state they can also cause people severe injury.

Like koalas, kangaroos are 'marsupials' - animals with a pouch for their young and a special way of feeding the baby between the time that the egg is fertilized and the very tiny joey is born. (If you want all the real biological information about what makes marsupials unique, click here .) It only takes 3 weeks after mating for the baby to be born. You wouldn't recognise it as a young kangaroo. It's less than 5 cm (2 inches) long. The mother licks her fur and the baby crawls along the pathway to the pouch using the claws on its front feet and its well developed front legs. It has no eyes or ears, and only little jelly-like bumps of skin for back legs.

Once the joey has a nipple in its mouth, the nipple expands to make a seal, and, at some stages, the milk can actually be pumped into its mouth. When it has grown, it will leave the pouch for the first time when it's about 5 months old.

If there is a long period with no rain, and food is in short supply, kangaroos stop breeding. However, when there is plenty of grass, their numbers can increase quickly. This is because a female can have one baby in her pouch and another embryo waiting inside her - but not growing or developing in the uterus. When the joey will no longer fit inside its mother's pouch, it still puts its head inside and feeds from her for a while. As soon as it has left its mother and had its last drink of milk, at about 9 months old, or if it dies or gets killed, the new one is born within 24 hours.