Kangaroos are often considered friend, not foe. But the marsupial’s reputation took a hit this week when a 77-year-old Western Australian man was killed by the pet western grey he hand-reared from a joey.
As Peter Eades lay dying on his Redmond farm, 398km south of Perth, police were forced to shoot the three-year-old male kangaroo, which was preventing an ambulance crew from reaching the injured man.
A WA Police spokesman, Ryan Langley, says family members discovered a seriously injured Eades at about 5pm on Sunday.
“It is believed the man had been attacked by the kangaroo earlier in the day.”
It is only the second death in 100 years caused by a kangaroo in Australia. The last was in 1936, when a 38-year-old New South Wales man, William Cruickshank, reportedly died from head injuries after trying to save his dogs from a kangaroo.
A University of Melbourne behavioural ecologist, Graeme Coulson, says this week’s attack was unexpected but unsurprising.
Pet kangaroos are driven by the same instincts as their wild counterparts. At this age, when they are not feeding or resting, they fight, associate professor Coulson says.
“In this case, probably the owner was seen as another kangaroo and presumably the kangaroo was trying to play-fight or perhaps [engage in] more serious dominance fighting with him,” Coulson says.
Coulson says male kangaroos are strong, and use their sharp nails and powerful kick to fight for mating rights.
“Almost as soon as they start hopping, they start play-fighting. As they get older it becomes more serious.
“An eastern grey that we know was killed in a fight. And they all have scars, scratches and tears – it’s quite full-on when it happens,” he says.
Kangaroos are protected native animals in Australia. Under federal conservation laws, it is an offence to harm them or keep them as pets.
The ‘boxing kangaroo’
While kangaroo interactions are a long way from the 1960s television adventures of eastern grey kangaroo Skippy, the docile animals often appear oblivious to their human neighbours. There have nevertheless been many close calls over the years.
In March, a 3-year-old girl was admitted to hospital in NSW with head, back and arm injuries after a kangaroo hopped on to the home porch she was playing on in the northern tablelands.
Across the border in Queensland, and merely a month later, a 69-year-old female golfer was knocked to the ground and repeatedly stomped by a kangaroo at Arundel Hills Country Club.
Nicknamed the “boxing kangaroo”, western greys have broad shoulders, long arms, and hands as big as a human’s.
Coulson says kangaroos continue to grow throughout their lives, reaching sexual maturity by age four, and ultimately towering two metres tall and weighing up to 60kg.
“They are pretty pumped, with some serious muscle by the time they become a big male,” Coulson says.
“They rear up on to their tails, and that allows them to kick with their feet with big sharp nails. But they can also wrestle – they will get you in a headlock.”
In 2020, a kangaroo crashed through a Perth man’s car windscreen as he was driving his utility vehicle at 100km/h along a major highway. The injured animal reportedly landed in the passenger seat of the car, severely damaging the vehicle but leaving the startled driver unhurt.
Across the country, a south Canberra man in Garran was forced in his underwear to wrestle a kangaroo in 2009 after the animal crashed through a three metre-high bedroom window in the early hours of a Sunday morning.
At that time, 42-year-old Beat Ettlin, his partner Verity Beman and daughter Beatrix Lay were forced to cower under blankets as the injured and bleeding kangaroo jumped on top of them while trying to escape.
Ettlin told reporters he wrestled the two metre tall kangaroo into a headlock and dragged it out through the front door.
Two hours north of Sydney, on the grounds of a psychiatric hospital in southern Lake Macquarie, aggressive kangaroos reportedly attacked and injured multiple tourists in 2018, after developing a taste for snacks.
Panic and attack
Images of kangaroos are ubiquitous in Australia on sporting team logos, art, coins, as well as on the commonwealth coat of arms, but Coulson says habitat loss from rapid development is a key issue for the species.
“You get kangaroo populations that are surrounded by development and have nowhere to go,” he says. “Some populations just sit there languishing.”
Trapped and stressed animals can panic and attack, sometimes attempting to cross roads – endangering motorists.
In June, 200 kangaroos were moved from a Baldivis development site south of Perth after the public protested their destruction.
Dozens of kangaroos reportedly perished in the move and Coulson says more needs to be learned about relocating the species, as animals often struggle to find food and try to return to their home range.
He says hand-raised kangaroos also pose a risk to the public, because the animals end up unable to differentiate between people and their own kind.
The WA Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions said it was preparing a report for the coroner and would not comment about the incident this week.
The animal lover
Back in Redmond, 25 minutes north-east of Albany, Eades has been described as an animal lover.
The son of a farmer and a teacher, Roger and Miriam, he grew up in nearby Narrikup and established the Agonis Alpaca stud in Redmond 1990, raising and naming 60 head of flock.
More than 20 years later and now a grandfather, Eades built a cemetery in his backyard as a memento to lost alpacas he described as like children to him, according to the ABC.
It is here, next to his favourite alpaca Claudia’s homemade tombstone, that Eades said he dug his own grave, ready for when his time comes.
His family did not wish to comment on his death, saying they just want him to be at peace.