'Mourning' kangaroo was trying to mate, says expert

Kangaroo cradles dying mate while joey watches onImage source, Evan Switzer
Image caption,
A leading expert says it was sexual arousal, not grief, that drove this kangaroo to repeatedly try and revive its mate

Pictures of a male kangaroo cradling its dying mate in apparent mourning were widely shared this week and labelled "heartbreaking" in the media.

But a leading kangaroo expert says it was not grief that was behind the roo's attempt to revive its companion on a Queensland property, but sex.

Dr Mark Eldridge said the male kangaroo was trying to lift the female in order to mate with her.

He said there was no clear evidence that kangaroos did mourn their dead.

Dr Eldridge, the Australian Museum's principal research scientist said: "The evidence is here sticking out from behind the scrotum."

The kangaroo's wet forearms show that it was licking itself to avoid overheating, he said.

"Probably the whole situation is perplexing and frustrating for him, and he is getting… hot and bothered," he told the BBC.

Image source, Evan Switzer
Image caption,
Evan Switzer, who took the photos, described how the male kangaroo was standing defensively near the female

Kangaroos do not pair bond - males establish a hierarchy among themselves through fighting and the strongest will have first access to female mates.

Dr Eldridge said the joey in the picture probably did not realise that its mother was dead and may still have been suckling.

But he said it was difficult to know whether the joey would feel grief over its mother's death.

"There is a strong bond between the mother and the young but it's hard to attribute emotions to those sorts of situations," he said.

"There does seem to be much clearer evidence with more intelligent mammals such as apes and elephants, but there is not clear evidence with kangaroos.

"These are not little people, they are kangaroos."

Image source, Evan Switzer
Image caption,
Dr Eldridge cautioned against applying human standards of behaviour to animals

'Overcome with sadness'

Evan Switzer, the amateur photographer who took the photo, said Dr Eldridge's explanation "answered a few questions".

"I was wondering why the arms were so dark and wet," said Mr Switzer, who found the kangaroos while walking his dog.

Mr Switzer said the male kangaroo repeatedly tried to lift his mate with his forearms, but she fell to the ground.

The images captivated Australian media and were widely shared across social media.

Brisbane's Courier Mail newspaper published them on its front page on Thursday, under the headline "Tender-roo".

Other media reports referred to the male "looking solemnly ahead, overcome with sadness".

Image source, Courier Mail
Image caption,
Queensland newspaper the Courier Mail published the photos on its front page under the headline "Tender-roo"