Australia’s largest native land mammal


Names): red kangaroo (Osphranter rufus)

Band: macropods

Cut: Up to 1.8m and 90kg.

Diet: Herbivorous, eats mainly grasses but also trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants.

Habitat/range: The only truly restricted kangaroo to Australia’s arid interior.

Conservation state: Least concern

Superpower: Native mythology tells that the red kangaroo obtained water by magical means. Her aunt the mulga parrot brought them water over long distances at night in special kangaroo skin bags.

Red kangaroo. Credit: Jami Tarris/Getty Images

The red kangaroo is central to Australia’s ecological identity. It is rooted in indigenous culture, Australia’s largest native land mammal, the largest extant marsupial, and the only kangaroo truly restricted to Australia’s arid interior.

How this large animal survives in the harsh desert environment comes down to its remarkable adaptations.

Red kangaroos pick and choose where they spend their time depending on the conditions. During hot summers, they shelter all day under shady trees, emerging to feed on cool evenings or after dark in warm weather. They know where the best food is during dry periods, along open plains and flooding streams. Immediately after good rains, red kangaroos spend most of their time in the woods where there is both shelter and food.

But to survive the jagged nature of Australia’s arid interior, female red kangaroos go further than simply selecting an optimal habitat. They have the remarkable ability to stop reproducing during droughts while being able to suckle already born young. This way, the mother does not lose her life by continually expending energy to reproduce and try to keep the young alive. However, once the rains return, the females reproduce rapidly within weeks – an optimal cycle for the arid environment.

Red kangaroos are an important food source for Indigenous Australians, but they also hold incredible cultural significance. In fact, according to aboriginal legends, the red kangaroo was one of the spiritual ancestors who originally created the landscape and its wildlife, and who is repeatedly reborn within people. If for no other reason than, the Red Kangaroo should get your vote.

Red kangaroo.
Red kangaroo. Credit: Jamie Lamb/Getty Images

And, instead of voting for the dingo, how about voting for the animal that supports them? Red kangaroos form a major component of dingo diets during droughts when other prey is scarce. The availability of red kangaroos as prey for dingoes during droughts reflects the ability of red kangaroos to survive during periods of low rainfall.

When red kangaroos die naturally or succumb to predation, their carcasses become a food source for a plethora of scavengers which in turn help recycle dead animal matter. In the Simpson Desert, for example, red kangaroo carcasses are fed by at least 13 different vertebrate scavengers, including brown hawks, lace goannas, wedge-tailed eagles, military dragons, black kites , ravens and crows. A single red kangaroo carcass can also attract a diversity of scavenger insects, including beetles, flies, and ants. Due to their large size and relative abundance, no other species native to Australia’s arid zone has the capacity to support as many scavengers as red kangaroo carcasses.

So red kangaroos have adapted and evolved to survive in our harsh arid interior, they are arguably one of the most important cultural species to indigenous Australians, they are a food source for large predators like dingoes, and their carcasses help support a plethora of other lifeforms.

What more would you like for your vote?

Voting for Australian Mammal of the Year is now open!

Visit our voting page here to learn more about the categories and to vote for your choices for Australian Mammal of the Year.

Keep an eye on the Cosmos website or subscribe to our mailing list for new awesome articles. Australian mammal species every week.


Comments are closed.