Kangaroos and wallabies

Kangaroos and wallabies on the suburban fringe: a new relationship?

Male Eastern Grey Kangaroo

Watching a mother kangaroo or wallaby feeding while its joey fumbles around in her pouch is a special experience. When wild animals seem this placid and caring, it can be tempting to get close to them, touch them and even feed them. With regular feeding, a kangaroo or wallaby learns to approach people for food. Even without feeding, kangaroos and wallabies readily accept our presence if we show no aggression towards them. But, if we get too close, they may see us as a threat.

Kangaroos and wallabies that are used to being fed can approach people expecting food. When there is no food, they may become aggressive.

Today, people rarely live in close contact with large wildlife. As a result, we have lost much of our wariness and first-hand knowledge of these animals and how they live.

This means we can get too close to kangaroos and wallabies without thinking about the consequences. For kangaroos and wallabies living on the bushland fringe of a suburban area, a human may be seen as little more than a large animal living in its habitat - and one that they may occasionally need to defend themselves against.

There are occasions where people come into conflict with kangaroos and wallabies, usually due to a combination of the availability of attractive habitat and increasing urbanisation from an expanding population. Where these situations arise, landholders can take a number of actions to help reduce the impact of kangaroos and wallabies on their property.

To deter kangaroos or wallabies from gardens and lawns in residential areas, landholders are recommended to:

  • appropriately fence their property to exclude these animals (note: some residential areas have covenants in place to retain wildlife corridors and fencing may not be permitted)
  • limit the animals’ access to water on the property
  • regularly mow lawns to reduce grass cover
  • increase the coverage of other vegetation to reduce lawn size and grazing comfort
  • use deterrent products like sonic deterrents or blood and bone fertilizer
  • use motion activated security lights which may deter night time grazing.

Individual behaviours

Wild animals should never be seen as having set patterns of behaviour that they follow blindly. Individual animals have their own 'personalities' and learn in response to their experiences.

If a kangaroo or wallaby has been raised in captivity and released into the wild it may approach you demanding food by scratching and biting. It may even see you as another animal and start to kick and scratch as a form of 'play fighting' or to assert its dominance.

Kangaroos or wallabies that are injured or sick can also become defensive if approached and may be dangerous. In these situations, a trained wildlife rehabilitator should be contacted rather than approaching the animal yourself.

Kangaroos and wallabies are protected wildlife and a permit is needed to raise a joey in captivity. An important part of raising a joey is to ensure that it is capable of caring for itself in the wild without human assistance when it is released.

Living with kangaroos and wallabies

Female Eastern Grey kangaroo and juvenile

The kangaroo is an Australian icon. Its size, strength and speed are traits that make it a natural logo or emblem for Australian organisations and sporting clubs. It is also part of our national coat of arms.

Kangaroos are also symbolic of another Australian trait: to stick up for yourself and not back down (with their large back feet and tail, kangaroos find it hard to move backwards). However, unlike their human counterparts, adult males fight their rivals to gain higher status within a local group or 'mob' and the dominant male will father the next generation of joeys.

Whilst many people see large male kangaroos as placid grazing animals. The reality is that they can be aggressive towards people. Although the risk of this happening is very small, we still need to be wary around them.

Eastern grey kangaroo

The eastern grey kangaroo readily adapts to altered landscapes that still provide shelter, water and grass to eat. Golf courses, outer suburban parks, rural residential areas and farmland can all provide habitat for eastern grey kangaroos.

Without fear of being hunted or disturbed, eastern grey kangaroos have had little inclination to move out of their traditional habitats and territories. They now tolerate our presence and we tolerate theirs, often providing the opportunity to enjoy the sight of one of our largest native animals at close quarters.

When it comes to looking eye-to-eye at such a large marsupial, it is important to understand how it can behave. Watching kangaroos at a respectful distance can teach you a lot about their individual behaviour and how they act within a group.

Mob mentality

Eastern grey kangaroos are social animals living in groups called mobs. Each mob has a number of breeding females and their young, and several adult males. Only one dominant male will breed with all the females. This male defends its breeding rights by fighting other males. The other adult males in the mob may also "spar" with each other to establish their own position in the dominance hierarchy.

The dominant male watches over the females to see if they are ready to mate, and will sometimes follow one for days. Other males will also hang around the females and the dominant male will warn off these rivals if they get too close.

Protecting their young

Females with joeys that are old enough to be out of the pouch can also become aggressive if they feel that the presence of a person is a possible threat to their young.

Both male and female kangaroos are large, powerful, wild animals that are capable of inflicting injury on people and they need to be treated with an appropriate level of respect and caution.

Safety tips for reducing interactions with kangaroos

  1. Never provide food or water

    Providing food or water causes the animals to become dependent on humans and increase the chances of aggressive behaviour. Exposing them to an artificial diet may also cause health problems and create unnatural concentrations of animals. Making sure kangaroos find their own natural sources of food is important for your safety, the safety of other residents and visitors in the community and the health and welfare of the kangaroos.

  2. Keep your distance

    If you enter an area where kangaroos or wallabies live, give them as much space as possible. If you see one, stay away from it and watch how it behaves. If it moves toward you, or shows signs of being aggressive, move away (even if it is only looking for food or human contact, a kangaroo or wallaby may still become aggressive). Don't act aggressively towards the kangaroo or wallaby, as this will simply reinforce the idea that you are a threat.

  3. Manage your personal safety and avoid risks
    • Don’t shoo the roo. Avoid approaching them or encouraging them to move off using gestures or objects. This may frighten them and make them feel the need to defend themselves.
    • Don’t go near kangaroos engaged in courtship or mating behaviour for example, males sniffing, touching or moving round with females.
    • Don’t go near male kangaroos that are sparring, fighting or showing off their size and strength to each other.
    • Don’t go near a kangaroo that is growling or clucking.
    • Don’t move between a female and her joey. Females will protect young at foot and may become aggressive if they feel the presence of a person is a threat to their young.
  4. Get to know your local mob

    By watching the animals that live near you, you can learn to identify individuals by their appearance (e.g. size, sex, notches on their ears) and even give them names. You will also start to work out the relationships between individuals (e.g. who the dominant male is) and be able to follow the birth and growth of each new generation of joeys.

  5. Recognise warning signs of aggressive and dominant behaviour
  6. Eastern grey kangaroos can breed throughout the year. This means that a dominant male will always be watching the females in his mob—and also keeping an eye on other males that may try to mate with these females or challenge his dominance.

    People who get too close to a dominant male when it is pursuing a female or mating could also be seen as a threat.

    A dominant male kangaroo shows other males who's boss in a number of ways including:

  • walking slowly on all fours with its back arched to intimidate other males
  • rubbing its chest from side to side on the ground
  • grabbing onto grass tussocks and low shrubs with its forelimbs and rubbing its chest over them
  • standing erect by propping itself up on its tail and hindfeet, and urinating
  • fighting and sparring

Sub-dominant males will acknowledge the dominant male's status by giving a short cough. If there is no cough-response, a fight may result.

Deter kangaroos from coming onto your property

  • Limit the amount of water or food available on your property to discourage kangaroos from entering your property. Do not feed or leave food out for kangaroos as they can become habituated and learn to approach people for food. Kangaroos are active during the day but mostly feed at dawn and dusk.
  • Mow your lawn regularly to reduce grass cover and deter kangaroos from grazing.
  • Increase the coverage of other vegetation to reduce lawn size and grazing comfort.
  • Exclude them from your property with appropriate fencing. Fences should be approximately 1.5 metres high and include a gate for animals to leave easily should they enter the property. (while fencing can be a deterrent, it is usually only effective against smaller kangaroos).
  • Use deterrent products like motion activated jet-sprinklers or blood and bone fertilizer or D-ter mixture formulated to repel wildlife.
  • Use motion activated security lights which may deter night time grazing.
  • If kangaroos do make their way into your backyard, it’s likely that they will move off in their own time.

Keep safe when out and about

  • Keep your distance from kangaroos.
  • Be vigilant and plan ahead—take routes that avoid passing through areas where kangaroos congregate.
  • Avoid walking alone, particularly at dawn and dusk, when kangaroos are most active.
  • Always carry a safety stick when out and about (e.g. walking stick, hiking pole, large umbrella or something similar), to act as a visual deterrent and create a barrier if needed.
  • When driving, watch out for wildlife crossing signs and places where kangaroos and wallabies have been killed. Slow down in these areas, particularly at night, so you will have more time to react if a kangaroo is on the road.
  • Report ‘black spots’ where kangaroos and wallabies are being killed to your council so they can erect wildlife crossing signs.

What to do if you feel threatened by a kangaroo

  • Move away as slowly as possible to a safe place.
  • Give a short, deep cough; avoid eye contact; bow your head; and keep your arms close to your body as you move away. This will make you appear smaller and less of a threat to the kangaroo.
  • Do not turn your back on the animal or run.
  • Where possible put a barrier between you and the animal such as a tree or fence.
  • If you happen to have an object with you when the kangaroo approaches (e.g. branch, stick, pole etc), hold it out in front of you so it acts as a barrier. This may deter an aggressive kangaroo—but never use the object to strike the animal.
  • If the kangaroo does attack:
    • drop to the ground
    • curl into a ball (if able) or otherwise lie face down and use your arms to protect your head and neck
    • try and remain calm and still until the animal moves away

Contact your local council to report your concerns.

Protected wildlife offences and penalties

Kangaroos are protected native wildlife under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. In some situations, it may become necessary to take action to minimise damage or loss of property caused by wildlife or to protect human health or wellbeing. In these specific circumstances, protected animals may be declared as dangerous and restrictions on human interactions with those animals, such as feeding, may be applied.

  • It is an offence to harm or kill kangaroos without a damage mitigation permit.
  • In some locations (such as Maaroom), it is may also be an offence to feed kangaroos.
    It’s important for kangaroos to find their own natural sources of food otherwise they become dependent on people feeding them, creating issues for the local community.
  • Fines for these offences range from $431 to $23,700.
  • If you see someone harming, or feeding kangaroos in areas where it is prohibited, report it by phoning 1300 130 372.

Sick, injured or orphaned macropod

If you happen to come across sick, injured or orphaned wildlife, you should contact the RSPCA Qld.

Find out what you can do if you come across a sick, injured or orphaned animal.

Further information

If you are having problems with an aggressive animal, contact us.

See also:

Information sources

Aldenhoven, J., and Carruthers, G. (1992). Kangaroos-Faces in the mob. (documentary film) Green Cape Wildlife Films.

Poole. W.E. (2002). Eastern grey kangaroo, in Strahan, R. (ed.). The Mammals of Australia. Australian Museum/Reed New Holland, Chatswood NSW.