The Eastern Grey Kangaroo is an iconic marsupial mammal. They live in mobs of 10 or more in a home range of up to 5km in eastern Australia.
Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Macropus giganteus, is a marsupial mammal that belongs to a small group called macropods. They have hind legs that are larger than their forelimbs. Their hind feet are also large and powerful. Their long muscular tail is used for balance when hopping and as a fifth limb when movements are slow. The fur is a light grey woolly colour except the face which is darker. A dark tip of fur is also found on the tail.
Males: body length to 1.3m, tail to 1m; females: body length to 1m, tail to 0.84m
They are found in habitats ranging from semi-arid mallee scrub through to woodlands, some farmland areas with remnant vegetation and forest. They tend to favour denser scrubs and forests.
Grey Kangaroos have wide and almost continuous distribution between the inland plains and the coast where the annual rainfall is more than 250mm. The Eastern Grey Kangaroo is found over most of the eastern states including Tasmania. They are also found at all altitudes in woodlands up to subalpine areas.
Feeding and diet
The Eastern Grey Kangaroo is predominantly a grazing animal with specific food preferences. They are herbivorous, favouring grasses but will eat a range of plants, including in some cases, fungi. With the grasses they prefer to eat young green shoots high in protein. Dry grass is difficult for them to digest. Being nocturnal, large ‘mobs’ will gather at dusk to feed where food is most abundant.
Other behaviours and adaptations
They usually rest in the shade or shelter of trees or scrubs moving out to graze from late afternoon to early morning when they will congregate in the open. This is avoiding the hottest part of the day. They communicate via a series of clucking sounds. Aggressive males and alarmed individuals of both sexes give vent to a guttural cough.
The tendons in the legs of kangaroos act like sprung ropes and help propel the animal at fast speed with minimum effort. The highest recorded speed was set by a female Eastern Grey Kangaroo at 64km/hr.
Breeding is continuous throughout the year and reaches a peak in summer. The newborn ‘joey’ which weighs less than one gram is born thirty six days after mating. It climbs unaided into the pouch and shortly afterwards attaches to one of the four teats. The young kangaroo is raised in the pouch until it can survive outside. At about 9 months the joey will begin to leave the pouch but continues to suckle from time to time. A joey becomes independent at about 18 months of age.
The Eastern Grey Kangaroo is protected by law. For thousands of years, though, indigenous peoples have hunted the kangaroo for food and skins. When Europeans arrived in the eighteenth century, they too hunted the kangaroo. There are now rules in place in all Australian states and Territories to protect kangaroos. The Eastern Grey Kangaroo is among 4 abundant species that can be commercially harvested for export. This can only be done by licensed hunters. None of these 4 species is threatened or endangered. Kangaroo meat is now being looked at as an alternative source of meat to beef. The soft feet of kangaroos are more preferable to the hard hoofs of cattle in erosion prone areas.
- Morris Jill, Muir Lynne: Australian Kangaroos Magnificent Macropods. Greater Glider Productions 1998.
- NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service: Kangaroos and Wallabies Menkhorst Peter, Knight Frank: A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. Oxford University Press 2004.
- Parish, Steve: Amazing Facts About Australian Mammals. Vol.2 Steve Parish Publishing 1997.
- Strahan R (Ed): The Australian Museum Complete Book of Australian Mammals. Angus & Robertson.
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: www.dfat.gov.au/facts/kangaroos.html