An unusual Australian
compare it to any European animal would be impossible as it has not the least
resemblance of any one I have seen." Sir Joseph Banks
In all the formality of diplomacy, sometimes it is easy to forget the importance of a sense of humour. Fortunately, during the colonisation of Australia, the Aborigines had one and as a result, one of the most unique animals in the world got an equally unique story behind its naming. When some of the first whitefellas saw this unusual animal hopping about they asked the Aborigines what it was called. The Aborigines replied 'kanguru', which in their language meant "I don't know". Sometime later, the whitefellas discovered what kangaru really meant. Not wanting to admit that the Aborigines may have played a joke on them, they concluded that the Aborigines must have misunderstood the question asked of them and thought they meant “I don’t know what you are asking”. More likely, the Aborigines understood the question but thought it would be a funny joke if the Europeans walked about saying "I don't know".
The sense of humour involved in the naming of the Kangaroo is just one of the many reasons why it has come to symbolise the Australian character. In regards to its behaviour, it shares many characteristics that are seen as typically Australian. Specifically, although it congregates in groups, unlike a sheep or cow, the Kangaroo is not a herd animal. If a mob of roos is attacked, individuals run in different directions. These individualistic traits make roos a difficult animal to farm as they wont follow in single file to an abattoir. Nor will they obey a sheep dog's instructions to move to a new paddock. As well as making life difficult for farmers, the individualistic behaviour it difficult for predators to herd roos into a trap where they can be picked off. If a lone roo is chased by an animal such as a dog, the roo will try to jump into a body of water. If the dog follows, the Kangaroo will turn to face its assailant and then use it paws to to grab a dog's head, and drown it.
When Kangaroos aren't escaping predators, they lead a peaceful life. They are particularly adaptable creatures that can withstand tough conditions. In times of draught, they cope by digging 'wells' up to three or four feet deep. These wells may also become a water source for other animals in the area.
Roos live quite harmoniously with the land. Unlike sheep and cows, the Kangaroo doesn't eat grass to its roots, thereby ensuring it can survive to sustain it another day. This feeding trait, combined with its padded feet, make the Kangaroo a very environmentally friendly animal to farm. Unfortunately, their ability to jump fences make it very easy for them to escape enclosures.
This jumping ability also makes them difficult for farmers to keep them out of pasture reserved for cows and sheep. To protect their livelihood, farmers have no choice but to shoot raiding parties of roos. If not killed instantly, the behaviour of a wounded roo is particularly distressing. Rather than wait patiently to die, they pull themselves forward with their arms - never giving up until they are dead.
It is understandable that Kangaroos are so keen to survive when one considers that at any one time they may have three children depending upon them. Its children may include:
- One semi-adult discovering
life outside the pouch, learning to eat grass, but still feeding off the mother;
- An infant curiously watching what goes on from the safety of the mother's
- One embryo the size of a thumbnail awaiting signals to be born.
so many children depending on her, the mother needs a man she can depend on and
true to form, the father Kangaroo doesn't let her down. When danger is sensed,
the lady will crouch down in the bushes in relative safety. Meanwhile, the male
will assume a position of prominence in the hope a predator will spot him, and
then chase him. If pursued, the male Kangaroo
will do his best to lead the assailant away from his family. If he survives, he
will return at a later time to again watch over his lady and children.
Species of roo
are 47 different varieties of Kangaroo. The largest six are referred to as roos
while the rest are called Wallabies. The largest
is the Red Kangaroo at a height of 1.8m and a weight of 90kg. It can clear nine
meters in a single jump, has been known to jump over a nine foot high fence and
has a top speed of 74 kilometres an hour. The
smallest is the Monjon which grows to 35cm and weighs 1.4kg. One
species, the Purple-neck Rock Wallaby [Petrogale Purpureicollis] secretes
a dye that transforms its face and neck into colours ranging from light pink to
Activity 1 - Kangaroo "Culling" or Kangaroo Industry?
In the eyes of many in the international community, Australians culling of Kangaroos are as callous Japanese hunting Whales. Arguably, Kangaroo "culling" is also a mask for an industry in Australia just as "science" is a mask for an industry in Japan.
Read below, and then do research of your own to decide whether defining the shooting of Kangaroos as "culling" is really just a mask for a Kangaroo meat industry. If so, make an argument as to whether it should be seen as akin to fishing in its scope and intention.
The general premises for culling in Australia seems to be that it helps reduce the population of Kangaroos so they don’t damage the environment or cruelly starve to death. Both premises are dubious. In regards to environmental damage, Kangaroos touch the earth lightly. Unlike Sheep, they don’t eat grass all the way to the roots, which decreases the chances of the grass dying. In addition, their soft padded feet do less damage than hoofed animals. Consequently, high populations of Kangaroos won’t strip the land bare as will high populations of Sheep, Goats or Cows. Furthermore, when there is a shortage of food, mothers will stop milk production. Joeys will die and then be tossed out of the pouch. Milk production will not restart until food becomes more abundant. In this way, Kangaroos can form a sustainable relationship with available food - even without predators hunting them. In many parts of Australia, particularly in eco-tourist locations, culling does not occur. These areas do not show evidence of land degradation nor Kangaroos starving to death.
A caravan park in South-East Australia that backs onto a national park. Wild Kangaroos keep the grass down and spare the need for a mower.
The claim that Kangaroos need to be shot to spare them cruelty is also dubious as culling is often extremely cruel. For example, regulations stipulate a head shot but pragmatically, a body shot that doesn’t kill is superior because then the animal can be flung in a truck without fear that the meat with spoil in the heat. In addition, if a mother is shot, then a joey in the pouch may need to be shot as well. Sometimes the cullers save a bullet by just using a boot.
Some aspects of culling are also potentially damaging to the species. For example, the big males are usually shot first because they try to attract the attention of the predator. By shotting them, the shooters target the strongest individuals of the mob during their prime breeding age.
Once shot, leather from the Kangaroo is used to make shoes. Some of the meat is butchered for human consumption, but most ends up as dog food.
The killing of Kangaroos can be justified on economic grounds because if Kangaroos are eradicated then Cows and Sheep will have more food. Furthermore, the meat can be sold for dog food and the leather for football boots. When done for these reasons, the killing of Kangaroos should be referred to as Kangaroo eradication or Kangaroo harvesting. To refer to it as culling and justifying it on environmental grounds is really as dishonest as killing a whale to find out how old it is and then selling its meat in Japanese supermarkets.
Activity 2 - To eat skippy?
Should more Kangaroo be eaten in Australia and if so, how should the industry be managed and regulated? Read below for some initial ideas.
For a variety of reasons, eating of Kangaroos has been a controversial topic in Australia. Some have argued that Kangaroos should replace Cows and Sheep on the dinner table because they are less environmentally destructive. Specifically, hoofed animals destroy root networks, degrade river banks while they eat grass down to their very roots. This leads to severe land degradation. On the other hand, the Roo has padded feet and leaves enough of the grass to ensure it survives tough conditions. As an added bonus, Kangaroo meat is very clean and has few parasites.
The main deficiency of the Kangaroo is that they are virtually impossible to farm in an economic way. Unlike Sheep and Rows, Roos jump fences and won't herd nicely to an abattoir. Furthermore, if they are caged, they lose up to 30% of their meat. Because of such deficiencies, the meat sold in supermarkets is wild Kangaroo that has been “culled.”
Wildlife Information and Rescue Service (WIRES)
information on the roo industry
Activity 3 - Icon
Below are examples of the image of the Kangaroo being used in popular culture. For each example, try to speculate what the designers/selectors were hoping to achieve by using the image of the Kangaroo.
Boxing Kangaroo Flag - The Boxing Kangaroo Flag is the unofficial flag of Australian
sport. The flag was created
in 1983 when Alan Bond's yacht Australia II ended the Americans
132 year dominance of the America's cup.
The Kangaroo appears along with the Emu on the Coat of Arms. It is said
that these animals were used as they can not walk backwards, thereby reflecting
the great Australian trait to leave baggage in the past and look forward to the
3) The Red Kangaroo is part of
the Qantas logo, Australia's national airline.
Many sporting teams also associate themselves with the Kangaroo. The national
Rugby League team is the Kangaroos, the national soccer team is the Socceroos,
the basketball team is the Boomers and a AFL team that hops between Canberra and
Melbourne is known as the Kangaroos.
the Bush Kangaroo was a television series in the tradition of Lassie, only much better. Australians are sometimes called skips, or skippies for this
5) The Kangaroo appears of the
1990 and 1998 Gold Bullion Proof Coins, 1995 Skippy Silver 1oz Coin and the 1996
Skippy Silver 1oz Coin.
6) Different Aboriginal
tribes have different legends regarding the Kangaroo. Some see the Kangaroo as
a reincarnation of their ancestors. In the Murrumbidgee distinct, one tribe has
a legend of huge Kangaroos that attacked people. By gaining fire, the tribe was
able to get the Kangaroos under control.