We hoped to see our first kangaroo while at the Arapiles. So far, I’ve seen not only my first kangaroo, but also my second, tenth, one hundredths, and one thousandths kangaroo. Kangaroos hop across the road when anyone drives up to the Arapiles, jump out of the bush early in the morning when I get out of the tent, and graze the fields surrounding Mt. Arapiles every dawn and dusk. After my jet-lagged arrival, I woke early every day and walked along country roads taking photos of kangaroos at sunrise.
A friend, Norm, invited us to visit his house in Wartook Valley and climb in the Grampians. I thought we’d seen a lot of kangaroos in the Arapiles. When we turned left off the main road to Zumstein’s, onto what Norm refers to as his “paddock” - 40 acres of pasture - hundreds of kangaroos grazed the fields.
“They’re a bit of a nuisance here,” Norm explained, trying to dampen my enthusiasm for the lovely kangaroos. They are a lovely animal, very graceful and agile. But lacking any native (or introduced ) predator in Australia, enormous herds of kangaroos threaten to destroy the environment, eating all grasses, shots, and small trees. Kangaroo-grazed areas are cropped close to the ground, with not a shoot surviving their appetite.
“Someone needs to cull them,” Norm commented. And he’s right. Like deer have destroyed native trees by overgrazing in parts of the United States, kangaroos are destroying all trees and bushes in parts of Australia.
When I first heard that the local pub in Natimuk serves kangaroo steak, I was appalled. At a barbeque in Natimuk, I declined the opportunity to try kangaroos steak.
“They’re too cute. I like kangaroos,” I explained when people offered me roast kangaroo. I still won’t eat them - they’re much too cute - but I do agree that some population control would benefit the herds.
Finding a hurt baby kangaroo two days ago made that clear.
“There’s a baby kangaroo on the island by the lake,” Norm told me one morning. “It’s too small to survive without its mother. You might have a look at it.”
I walked out to the dam and saw a little kangaroo lying flat on the ground, not moving. I worried that it had died from dehydration. As I walked up, it struggled to sit up, and then, as I aproached closer, it tried to hop away, but fell over.
I got down on hands and knees, holding out the celery I’d found in the fridge (what do I know about kangaroos?). It sat straight up, not moving, until I touched the celery to its mouth. It never ate the celery, so I slowly reached out to scratch its chest. I tried again to feed it celery, but it didn’t nibble once. I moved closer, and it again tried to hop away and fell over.
By now convinced that it must be dehydrated and probably still nursing, not yet eating, I decided to take it back to the house. I reached for it, but it kicked out at me. Kangaroos have very strong legs with very sharp claws on them. I stood, and when it fell over after trying to hop, I pounced on it and grabbed the back of the neck. Despite being unfamiliar with kangaroos, that seemed the safest place - away from the slashing beck legs. I held the neck tightly, picked it up, and then held both rear legs tightly together, carrying it back to the house.
“I’ve rung our friend who does animal rescue. We’ll take him there,” Norm said.
When we arrived at Emu Holiday Park, the woman promptly stuffed my kangaroo in a bag.
“You keep the little joeys in a bag,” she explained. This reminds them of home - their mama’s pouch. She carried the kangaroo, bag and all, into the house, where it nursed on a bottle of rehydration formula. The little joey looked much happier already - secure in its bag, eyes covered, it nuzzled and chewed onthe bottle’s nipple.
The next day I called to ask how my kangaroo was doing.
“I took him to the vet today,” she explained. “He’s got a head injury. We’ll wait until the weekend to see how he does.”
Aha. That’s why the joey fell over when trying to hop. Not from dehydration, but from a brain injury. Probably his mother was one of hundreds of kangaroos hit my cars, then left to slowly die. The mother made it back to the field, but must have died, leaving poor Joey to crawl out, injured, and try to fend for himself.
I’ll call after the weekend to see if he made it.