Photo by David Clements

Green Beat: Kangaroos are poetry in motion

Langley Times columnist David Clements continues adventure in Australia

  • Feb. 26, 2018 10:25 a.m.

By David Clements

As I stated in my last column, I did not come to Australia expressly to study marsupials. Yet, as Canadians, my wife and I find ourselves pretty obsessed with them.

Less than a week after we got here, we were driving home one evening and Deb spotted a group of kangaroos epically silhouetted against the sunset at a livestock watering hole.

That unforgettable sight began our quest to seek out kangaroos almost whenever we have a free evening. They are generally most active at dusk or dawn, i.e., they are crepuscular.

Kangaroos belong to the macropod marsupials featuring large hind feet, long tails, and the ability to hop.

At optimal speeds (often mid-speed), the hopping gate is incredibly efficient, as the kangaroo comes down on its feet and specialized spinal cord it is able to store up the energy for the ensuing jump, like the spring of a pogo stick.

In southeastern Australia where we are, the eastern grey kangaroo is the most common macropod.

I photographed the gorgeous eastern grey in the picture only about 15 minutes from our home here in Wagga Wagga where our friends advised us there were “heaps” of kangaroos. They were not wrong.

As well as enjoying watching the kangaroos gracefully hop, we have been privileged to witness some kangaroo boxing matches. The male kangaroos literally box against each other, including striking with both the hind legs and forelegs, courtesy of being able to balance on their fifth leg, their massive tail.

The eastern greys have actually increased their populations in recent years thanks to availability of ample grazing and water supplies.

While that is good news for the kangaroos, it does create some negative human-kangaroo interactions. At Charles Sturt University where I am studying weeds, students and staff are advised to approach the many kangaroos on campus with caution.

As long as you avoid the males during mating season, don’t approach kangaroos directly or get between a female and her joey, kangaroos are not too dangerous.

The serious danger is on the road. One of those unfortunate facts of nature is that the incredible locomotory ability of the ’roos puts them on a collision course with humans and their highways.

Large eastern greys can weigh 150 pounds and inflict serious damage to vehicles, and in fact many vehicles here sport “roo bars.” We have also seen some major highways lined with kangaroo fences.

It has to be a pretty high fence! And to see them bounding through pastures in the wild — that is poetry in motion!

David Clements, Ph.D. is Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at Trinity Western University

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