No one wants to pick a fight with a lion, a tiger, or a hippo. It's pretty obvious to stay away from a grizzly bear or a shark for the good of your health, but there are some animals that are worth keeping an eye on too. Kangaroos are fascinating and adorable animals in lots of ways, but they can be pretty dangerous too.
While it may be ridiculous to see them hop around with their joeys in their pouches, you should keep in mind that they are effectively six-feet-tall (the largest going up to seven feet), muscle-bound mammals with no compunction about punching you straight in the face.
So it's shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to see that they're causing trouble in Australia at the moment, and it's also not a shocker to learn that it's mostly the fault of tourists. Now, a state MP has called for a coordinated government response to various kangaroo attacks on the New South Wales central coast recently, after tourists made the mistake of offering the spring-heeled marsupials junk food, including in some cases - McDonald's.
Speaking to the New South Wales Parliament on Tuesday, local MP Greg Piper spoke about the attacks, which have been pretty brutal in some cases:
"There have been a number of reported incidents in which kangaroos have attacked visitors, in one case causing a very deep gash to a man’s stomach. In most cases they have been kicking out, clawing faces and grappling with people, causing lacerations or significant scratching … Recently one attacked a man, who required 17 stitches in his face."
One particular location referenced is the grounds of Morriset hospital near Lake Macquarie. Various travel websites recommend the area as a reliable place to see kangaroos in the wild without having to pay, leading to tourists flocking to those parts. Piper visited the site last week and saw tourists offer the kangaroos McDonald's, corn chips, apples, bananas and processed foods, far from their regular diet of grass.
Michelle Shaw, the nutritionist at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, said that feeding them these foods could be harmful. Kangaroos have digestive systems similar to cows, so feeding them even fruit or vegetables could cause stomach ulcers or inhibit their digestion of more appropriate foods.
"Another problem is research has shown animals can become quite addicted to sugar," she told the Guardian. "They are going to seek it out regardless of whether it is going to be good for them or not, so they can become quite aggressive."
A local tour bus operator, Shane Lewis, estimates there are up to 2,000 visitors a week, many of which get too close to the kangaroo population - attempting to get selfies or attract them with food. This doesn't tend to end well, as Lewis explained to the Guardian:
"You can rustle a chip packet and they know what’s in there. That makes them aggressive. The dangers are, you wouldn’t go near a dog when it’s eating its dinner, but people let their children go over, and I’ve seen kangaroos lash out thinking the kids going to take their food when they’re just coming to pat them. We try to scare them into not being naive and thinking they’re cute and cuddly by showing them the photos, what can happen, and not to give them any food.
According to Piper, it wasn't really possible to stop tourists coming to the area, with the MP remarking "that joey has left the pouch, so to speak". But aside from laying down dynamite wordplay, Piper has called on the state's national parks department to install better signage in the area to remind tourists that feeding the animals is both illegal and unsafe.
If you don't think you can take on a kangaroo in a one-to-one fight, it's best to keep a little distance between you and the marsupial.