Living With Wildlife

Western Grey Kangaroos

My husband and I live on an 18 acre property in the south-west of Western Australia and we share 600 metres of boundary with a section of State forest which extends for over 200 kilometres. Subsequently we see and enjoy plenty of native wildlife.

Our most common visitors, by far, are a mob of western grey kangaroos and we have come to know individual members of the families and have watched their activities over a number of years. Our kangaroos have never become really tame and we do not feed them but they are now much more comfortable with us and will stay still when we drive past. It is a different matter if we are walking when they will usually hop away.

Kangaroo 1Credit: Vince Evans - Copyright

Kangaroos are marsupials and have pouches in which they rear their young. Most marsupial young (joeys) are underdeveloped when they are born and must make the difficult journey from the birth canal to the pouch where they complete their development. In the pouch, they attach themselves to a teat and stay there for some months. They gradually spend more and more out of the pouch but continue to feed from the mother for around 16 months in total.

The female kangaroo is called a doe and the male, a buck. The does usually have one offspring each year but can have an embryo waiting to develop, a tiny joey in the pouch and an older joey (feeding from a different nipple and on milk of a different composition from outside the pouch). Many marsupials can hold an embryo 'on pause'. If good rains come or she loses her current offspring, she can stimulate the development of a new joey. This ability is called 'embryonic diapause'.

We have been fortunate to observe the development of many joeys from tiny heads popping out of pouches to youngsters being weaned off mother's milk. At this point, they are usually indistinguishable from the rest and then become just another member of the mob.

Kangaroo 3Credit: Vince Evans - Copyright

Western grey kangaroos are found throughout the south west of Western Australia and also in areas of South Australia. They feed mainly on grass and native shrubs and they can develop a taste a wide range of garden shrubbery. They are strictly herbivorous and can survive on plants high in fibre but low in nitrogen. Our property has an extended area of green lawn and, although they keep that well trimmed throughout the year, they spend just as much time in our paddocks where there is poor quality, very dry feed.

They feed mainly at night and in the heat of the day will retreat to the more heavily timbered and thus shady areas where they will lay up for much of the day. On our property, they move into our grassed areas each afternoon. We are frequently able to observe their natural behavioural patterns. Many of them have their own particular habits and personalities.

When we first moved to our property and started to establish a garden, we lost many new plants to the 'roos' until we worked out what they liked and didn't like. We have found that generally they will leave alone most plants that have a strong perfume. Even then there are variations. For instance, they will leave geraniums well alone but love pelargoniums which are closely related. They do not seem to touch many of the herb varieties, like mint, basil and parsley but we have seen them demolish our butternut squash and they thoroughly enjoy roses.

Kangaroo 4Credit: Vince Evans - Copyright

We planted a large patch of deciduous trees on the property but had great difficulty getting them established because of the kangaroos. At the time we tried a wide range of ways to defeat the roos' dietary preferences. We had read that a mix of garlic and chilli would deter them.

We can confirm that it indeed does deter them. However, to apply the brew, we had to blend vast quantities of garlic and chilli with white oil.

It had to be fine enough to be applied through a garden spray. We would then apply that to the foliage of our hundred or so newly planted trees. It worked well for about two days after which it wore off and the roos would be there each morning 'testing' a leaf or two. After losing many trees because we happened to be a little late with our application, we gave that method away. We now fence each new tree with wire netting and star posts with at least a 2 metre diameter circle and preferably a metre high. The kangaroos will thoroughly test the fence to reach any new growth so it does need to be well secured.

Each year we get to enjoy the development of the new joeys. Before we see the joey, we notice the pouch which gets bigger and bigger. They must get gravel rash on their bellies when they scrape under the bottom wire of the boundary fence. Eventually tiny heads pop out.

Before long the joeys start to leave the pouch for a trial run. When this happens, the joey will tumble out of the pouch and stand close to its mother. At the slightest disturbance it will clamber back inside to safety, with the pouch being pushed every which way as the joey arranges legs and tail to its satisfaction. However, it is soon hopping little circles around the doe, gradually gaining in confidence. When the mother feeds, if the joey has his head out, he can often reach the grass and will feed while his mother does.

Kangaroo 2Credit: Vince Evans - Copyright

Eventually, the little fellows bravely journey out 10 or 20 metres from the mother and will hop flat out in ever widening circles until they charge back to mother and tumble in for another feed. The doe has a muscle on the pouch that can keep the joey in (or out!). When they get a little bigger they feed from outside the pouch, putting their head in to reach the teat. When the joey is weaned it will still stay near its mother until it is 17 or 18 months old.

We have observed many generations of roos and can sometimes tell the different families by their distinctive markings. Although they are generally grey in colour, some will be darker than others and some have various white markings on their faces or ears.

Kangaroo 5Credit: Vince Evans - Copyright

We never attempt to feed the kangaroos, apart from having our garden available, but we do keep water troughs full for them so that they have water during our long dry summers.

They are a never ending joy to us and we love having them in our garden.