Are Kangaroos Dangerous? (Facts!)

Almost everyone knows the largest marsupial in the world: kangaroos. With their size and weight, kangaroos can look quite impressive. The animals are strong and can defend themselves well against enemies. But are kangaroos dangerous?

Kangaroos are a danger especially for driving at night. In rare cases, people get into a fight with kangaroos. The sharp claws and powerful legs can cause flesh wounds, eye injuries and broken bones in humans. Many kangaroos also see accompanying dogs as a danger.

male eastern grey kangaroo
Eastern grey kangaroos with their sharp claws

Kangaroos are basically harmless animals as long as you follow a few simple rules of behaviour.

Kangaroos are in principle good-natured and fearful animals that attack people only in the rarest cases. Although there are numerous videos of kangaroo boxing matches on the Internet, fights among kangaroos are also rather rare.

In this article I describe the biggest dangers kangaroos pose to humans, and how best to protect yourself from them.

Are kangaroos dangerous to humans?

eastern grey kangaroo fighting
Source: Jeremy Bezanger

The internet is full of videos showing fights between kangaroos and humans. What is the reality? Are kangaroos dangerous to humans?

For most people, kangaroos are not dangerous. Situations in which kangaroos attack a human are very rare. Attacks often happen in the presence of dogs. Kangaroos are mainly a threat in road traffic for motorists, motorcyclists and cyclists.

Kangaroo car crash at night

eastern grey kangaroos on the street

The most dangerous situations between humans and kangaroos occur when driving. How common are car accidents with kangaroos?

Over 90% of wildlife accidents in Australia involve kangaroos and wallabies. Most accidents occur between 17:00 - 22:00 in winter and after long periods of drought. Almost all accidents are non-fatal for humans.

Kangaroos are nocturnal animals. The animals search for food at night. The search for food as well as the poor visibility of drivers at night leads to numerous collisions between cars and kangaroos every day.

The collision between a car and a kangaroo is often fatal for the kangaroo. However, people are rarely injured in crashes with kangaroos.

In very rare cases, the kangaroo punctures the windshield on impact and can injure or even kill the occupants of the vehicle. In modern vehicles, the windshield is not as easily penetrated, so injuries have become less common over the years.

However, kangaroos are a problem especially for motorcyclists. The collision leads in many cases to a fall from the motorbike.

How to avoid accidents with kangaroos

a broken windscreen
Source: Will Creswick

How can a crash between kangaroos and cars be avoided?

You can slow down in the evening and at night to reduce the likelihood of accidents. If possible, drive very slowly if you see a kangaroo on the side of the road! This will give you more time to react. A collision at lower speeds causes less damage.

You should reduce your speed if possible as soon as you see a kangaroo on the side of the road. Please make sure that you do not endanger other road users.

Kangaroos are unpredictable wild animals and can suddenly jump across the road when you drive by. Unfortunately, it happens again and again that kangaroos jump off just as you are driving by and jump right in front of the car.

Kangaroos live in groups (mobs). When you see a kangaroo, make sure that the rest of the mob does not follow.

Speed plays a major role

a kangaroo mob in Western Australia at dusk

Kangaroos are large and heavy animals. The massive weight of up to 90 kg (200 lbs) and the high speed of the vehicle and the kangaroo unleash an enormous force in the event of a collision. What role does the speed of the vehicle and the kangaroo play in the collision?

Especially high speeds pose a great danger in the collision between car and kangaroo. After all, the kinetic energy of the kangaroo and the vehicle is proportional to the velocity squared. Increases in velocity will have an exponentially greater effect on the force at an impact.

What does that mean?

This means that when the velocity of the vehicle or kangaroo doubles, its kinetic energy that is suddenly discharged on impact quadruples.

Kangaroos like the Red Kangaroo can hop short distances at speeds of up to 70 km/h (43 mph) and weigh up to 90 kg (200 lbs). This can cause great damage.

Why are there kangaroo attacks on humans?

Kangaroos can attack humans in very rare cases. However, unprovoked attacks by a kangaroo are extremely rare. But why are people sometimes attacked by kangaroos?

Kangaroos attack humans when they feel threatened or when they expect food from humans. However, kangaroos are shy animals that in most cases flee when threatened. Only in rare cases do kangaroos start an attack. However, kangaroos often feel threatened by dogs.

I would like to briefly describe why you should not feed kangaroos, and why you should be especially careful when walking dogs.

Feeding makes the animals sick and aggressive

a woman feeding a kangaroo

I have witnessed humans feeding kangaroos about a dozen times. However, feeding kangaroos leads to three serious problems:

  1. Kangaroos lose their natural fear of humans.
  2. Kangaroos get addicted to the food and may attack humans.
  3. Kangaroos get sick from the food and can die.

By feeding kangaroos they become more trusting. People feed the animals so that they come closer. This enables them to take better photos and they can also pet the animals (which you should not do).

Kangaroos are herbivores that eat grass. Therefore, they should be fed only grass.

Human food and also vegetables like carrots can make the animals sick and addicted. For example, I was able to observe in a national park how visitors fed potate chips to a kangaroo.

Vegetables like carrots should also never be fed to kangaroos. Carrots are as bad for kangaroos as chocolate.

The sugar in the food affects kangaroos like children who have eaten too many sweets. The kangaroos become addicted and aggressive and demand more sugar (carrots).

a kangaroo looking at a beer on the beach

Therefore, in some tourist regions people are attacked by kangaroos several times a day. This often results in deep cuts which are caused by the sharp claws of the kangaroos.

Conclusion: Never feed wild kangaroos!

Dogs are perceived as a threat

Dogs are a big problem. Many kangaroo attacks are reported mainly in connection with dogs.

Dogs are very similar to the natural enemies of kangaroos, the dingos. Kangaroos therefore react either fleeing or aggressive to dogs.

Again and again there are fights between dogs and kangaroos. The powerful legs as well as the sharp claws can be a serious danger for the dog.

If humans interfere in the fight between dogs and kangaroos, the human also becomes the kangaroo's opponent.

Therefore, always keep a very large distance to the kangaroo with your dog!

Humans are perceived as a possible threat

Many kangaroos see humans as a potential threat. Most kangaroos are very fearful and flee as soon as a human approaches. However, there are few kangaroos that actively attack a human.

The risk of a kangaroo attack can be significantly reduced by keeping a good distance from the animals.

Kangaroos are not cuddly animals. Even though some kangaroos look small and cute, these wild animals can kick you hard with their strong legs.

The animals should not be touched or fed. Touching can be misinterpreted by the kangaroo.

Kangaroos should not be touched, even in zoos and wildlife parks, unless instructed to do so by the keepers. These animals are usually used to humans, but they may see certain behaviour as a threat to their own safety or rank within the mob and therefore attack humans.

A submissive attitude can already defuse the situation in some cases.

Conclusion: Kangaroos are not pets! Do not touch them, do not tickle them, do not cuddle! Kangaroos think in their own hierarchy which we humans do not consider and understand during interactions.

Can a kangaroo beat a human?

two red kangaroos kicking each other
Source: Dellex, CC BY-SA 3.0

Many of the larger kangaroo species (e.g. Red Kangaroo, Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Western Grey Kangaroo) can easily beat a human. Upright standing animals are sometimes even larger than humans. Can a kangaroo beat a human?

Kangaroos very rarely beat a human. Instead, the forelimbs with their sharp claws are used to cause cuts and flesh wounds on the face and upper body of the enemy. More often, kangaroos use their strong hind legs to kick their enemies.

This means that the famous "kangaroo punches" or "kangaroo boxing" are actually very rare.

Can a kangaroo kill you?

sharp huge claws of a kangaroo

Kangaroos fight mainly with the help of their sharp claws as well as their powerful hind legs. But can a kangaroo kill you?

A larger kangaroo can wound you so badly that you will not survive the injuries without medical attention. However, such incidents are extremely rare. The last death from a kangaroo attack in Australia was in 1937.

At that time William Cruickshank wanted to save two dogs from a kangaroo in Hillston NSW. He suffered a broken jaw and other head injuries. He succumbed to his injuries in hospital.

Kangaroo-related deaths don't usually happen from fights or attacks.

On average, two people die each year on Australia's roads after an accident with a kangaroo. The enormous weight in a collision can cause the animal to be forced through the window of the vehicle. Motorcyclists can fall in a collision. Sometimes motorists run off the road trying to avoid the kangaroo and are killed.

However, this makes kangaroos one of the less dangerous animals in Australia. Normally, more people die in connection with horses, cattle, and dogs.

How do kangaroos fight?

boxing kangaroos
Source: Arun Clarke (modified)

Kangaroos scratch and kick their opponents. To kick the opponent, kangaroos lean on the strong tail, and then use both hind legs to kick the opponent. This article describes how kangaroos fight.

Why do kangaroos fight against each other? Kangaroos usually fight in rituals to determine status within the group. Especially males fight to gain access to females.

Can a kangaroo kick kill you?

Kangaroos are animals that weigh up to 90 kg (200 lbs). Since these animals can hop up to 70 km/h (43 mph) with their strong hind legs, they naturally have a lot of power when kicking.

People can be killed by a kangaroo kick, but it does not happen in practice. However, fights with kangaroos in rare cases lead to life-threatening injuries in humans.

Without treatment, a kangaroo kick can be fatal. Occasionally, fights between kangaroos can also be fatal for one of the animals.

How can I protect myself in the event of a kangaroo attack?

boxing kangaroos
Source: James Wainscoat (modified)

It is best not to get into a fight with a kangaroo in the first place. Humble behavior towards the animal can already solve the conflict. In principle, you should always keep a distance from kangaroos. If an animal is obviously aggressive one should keep an even greater distance. Especially dogs should never be allowed near wild kangaroos.

But what's the best way to defend yourself in the event of a kangaroo attack?

Turn your head away from the kangaroo. The sharp claws can cause serious eye injuries and flesh wounds. Be careful not to get kicked by the kangaroo. This can cause broken bones and seriously injur your organs. Give the kangaroo a chance to escape. Kangaroos can't hop backwards, so they must escape forwards.

However, kangaroos have no interest in long fights. Fights require a great amount of energy and thus weaken the animal. Therefore, many fights last only a few seconds.

You should keep a sufficient distance to the animals right from the start. Kangaroos can move extremely fast and can easily catch up with a fleeing human. Therefore, keep calm and try to fend off aggressive animals as well as possible.

Your goal must be to not get hurt within those few seconds of a fight.