Many tourists assume that kangaroos are cute, cuddly animals ideal for taking the perfect selfie with. However, the reality, as most Australians know and many tourists find out, is that kangaroos are immense, powerful wild animals that should be given distance and respect.
In the town of Morisset in New South Wales, there is a functioning mental hospital where wild kangaroos reliably flock. According to the BBC, the local MP (Member of Parliament) Greg Piper estimates that about 3,000 tourists come every week to try and get a picture with the kangaroos. They come mainly because of posts on social media telling of the best places to see the marsupials. The tourists also frequently bring snacks with them that they then feed to the kangaroos in the hope of attracting them for a photo.
Piper says that this is where the main problem lies. Once the kangaroos come to associate tourists with food, they expect that they will always receive food from tourists – even those that haven’t brought any. If the tourists do not oblige, the kangaroos, especially the larger males, may become aggressive. The males can be over 6 feet tall and have immensely powerful legs. They can severely harm a person with their punches, kicks, and sharp claws. Enough tourists have been hurt in Morisset that an official warning was given to stop feeding the kangaroos.
Not only does feeding them endanger the tourists, but human food is also bad for the kangaroos. According to The Guardian, kangaroos are grazers with stomachs similar to those of cows. Processed foods with high levels of sugar and salt are harmful to the kangaroos’ health. They can even become addicted to sugar, which compounds their aggression. Even healthy-seeming foods like carrots can be detrimental. Piper does not believe that it’s possible to keep tourists completely away from the kangaroos, but he believes that if they were better educated, perhaps the tourists would be able to make safer choices.
Even native Australians who are well educated about kangaroos can be injured by them. Linda Smith and her husband Jim, now in their 60s, have been caring for animals for 15 years. According to the BBC, they had been feeding around 30 wild kangaroos and wallabies nightly due to drought in Queensland, where they live. One night, one of the large male kangaroos, who they thought might have been a kangaroo they’d raised since he was a joey named Golly Gosh, attacked Jim.
Linda rushed to Jim’s aid but the kangaroo, who was not the one they were familiar with, did not stop attacking her husband even after he was knocked to the ground. Linda attacked the kangaroo with a broom, but then he left Jim alone to focus on her, causing her serious harm. The attack only ended when the couple’s son hit the kangaroo over the head with a shovel, causing him to hop away.
Jim had some serious lacerations but was relatively unharmed, and his son had only minor injuries. Linda, however, sustained many wounds including a collapsed lung, broken ribs, and other internal and external injuries. She even needed to have surgery. She said that she does not wish the offending kangaroo to be harmed, stating that she understands they are wild animals and that one always needs to be careful, especially around the larger males.
According to the BBC, there have also been cases where kangaroos have caused damage to houses by attempting to pass through them, especially in suburban areas where the houses may have encroached on what was originally a kangaroo habitat. Additionally, The Independent reported a case where a kangaroo unexpectedly attacked a woman as she was out for her morning jog.
Although wildlife experts stress that kangaroo attacks are not the norm, they do happen, and it is important for tourists to remember that these creatures, although cute and photogenic, are still wild animals. Visitors should better educate themselves before encountering kangaroos so that they can learn to approach them with caution, and they should never feed them. Native Australians’ experiences are illuminating cautionary tales against assuming wild animals are nothing more than endearing additions to a social media picture.