The 4 Most Common Causes of Death in Kangaroos

Kangaroos are robust animals that can live up to 20 years in nature. However, there are many causes which can lead to an earlier death of kangaroos. These are the most common causes of death in kangaroos:

Nutrient deficiencies, predation, disease, and human impact are the most common causes of death in kangaroos.

kangaroo with joey in a burnt forest
Source: Jo-Anne McArthur (modified)

Death from nutrient deficiency

Death from nutrient deficiency is by far the most common cause of death in kangaroos. How does nutrient deficiency occur?

Young animals have few physical reserves

The extreme weather conditions on the Australian continent often result in poor availability of food and water.

Adult kangaroos are perfectly adapted to the poor conditions.

But especially young kangaroos have initially no reserves to survive longer periods of drought. During drought there are only dried grasses. These provide only few nutrients. In addition, water points are often hard to find or far away.

a tree in a dry landscape
Image Source: Christine Sandu

Nutrient deficiency is one of the most common causes of death, especially in kangaroos that have been recently weaned.

However, poor food supply is not only a problem for weaned animals. Even for baby kangaroos that still live in their mother's pouch, the probability of survival is reduced to less than 15% during extreme drought.

Worn teeth make food intake impossible

eastern grey kangaroo eating grass (Murramarang National Park)

Young kangaroos suffer especially from drought. Older kangaroos suffer mainly from worn teeth.

Kangaroos tear the grass out of the ground or chop it off with their teeth. In older kangaroos, the teeth are so worn that they can no longer chop off the grass.

Therefore, many older kangaroos eventually die from a lack of nutrients. Some animals become so weakened by the difficult food intake that they either become a victim of predators, or more susceptible to disease.

Death by predators

Predators are especially successful at hunting young or weak kangaroos. Kangaroos protect themselves from the threat of predators very differently depending on the species.

Large kangaroo species such as red kangaroos can rely on their high speed as well as long leaping distance for escape.

Small kangaroo species must seek shelter from predators in thickets.

What animals hunt kangaroos?

dingo drinking water
A dingo drinking water. Image Source: David Clode

Kangaroos have native predators, but also predators introduced by humans. What animals do kangaroos hunt?

Large adult kangaroos are not easy prey for wedge-tailed eagles, dingoes, and foxes. Adult red kangaroos are extremely fast, reaching speeds of up to 70 km/h. Therefore, they can escape well.

However, small kangaroo species, as well as young of the large kangaroo species, are often the victims of predators.

The smaller kangaroos do not have the necessary strength, fighting skills, or escape speed to escape the predators.

Do big kangaroos have no enemies?

The predators must hunt together in a group to capture even large kangaroos. The joint hunt is observed especially during extreme drought.

In extreme drought, the predators cannot find easy prey such as young animals. Then the food for both the predators and the kangaroos is scarce and the animals are weakened.

Apart from periods of drought, old and sick large kangaroos are the main victims of predators such as eagles and dingoes.

How do introduced animals affect the kangaroo population?

A fox. Image Source: Hans Veth

Foxes and cats are a threat to small kangaroo species.

Numerous smaller kangaroos such as wallabies and quokkas are helpless against foxes and cats.

Domestic cats near human settlements are believed to be a major contributor to the large reduction in small kangaroo species.

The large kangaroo species (e.g. Red Kangaroo, Western Grey Kangaroo, Eastern Grey Kangaroo) can successfully defend themselves against cats and foxes. These kangaroos are also significantly larger than cats and foxes.

Does the dingo fence protect kangaroos?

dingo barrier fence near Bell, QLD
JulieMay54, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The dingo or dog fence in Australia is a good example to observe the dangers that dingoes pose to kangaroos.

The fence was completed in 1885 to protect the sheep in the fertile region of southeastern Australia from dingoes and dogs. As a result, the number of dingoes in this area is lower than in other regions of Australia.

It has been observed that the dingo fence also protects the kangaroos in the cordoned off area. In some cases, kangaroos were even classified as a nuisance in these regions.

This means that dingoes control the kangaroo population.

How can kangaroos defend themselves?

boxing and fighting kangaroos
Image Source: David Clode

Kangaroos are excellent fighters. Already as Joey, the kangaroo learns playfully with the mother how to defend itself. In the process, the mother practices small boxing and kicking movements with the joey.

Later, kangaroos box against each other in ritual fights to determine position within the mob as well as to gain access to females.

Kangaroos also use their skills to survive in everyday life in the wild. Joeys are easy prey, but adult kangaroos fight for their lives.

Especially male kangaroos often successfully fight against dingoes and foxes.

Death from diseases

virus under a microscope
Image Source: CDC

Like all living creatures, kangaroos can become the victim of diseases. What diseases affect kangaroos?

Studies on captive kangaroos showed mainly digestive tract diseases, pneumonia, and toxoplasmosis.

However, kangaroos are rarely at risk from disease. Diseases spread more easily, especially in unfavorable living conditions. Droughts, floods, extremely wet or cold weather weakens the entire kangaroo population. Then diseases spread faster. At the same time, the weakened animals are less able to fight off these diseases.

Lumpy Jaw Disease

Kangaroos kept in captivity often suffer from "Lumpy Jaw Disease". This inflammation affects the neck and head area of the kangaroo. It is a severe inflammation of the jaw. This inflammation often spreads to other areas of the body which eventually leads to death in many cases.

Lumpy Jaw Disease is favored by stressors. Kangaroos are quickly stressed, especially when captured or relocated from their enclosure.

Death due to human activities

Over 90% of the area of Australia is uninhabited. This means that humans do not have much impact on kangaroos in some regions of the continent.

Humans inhabit mainly the wetter regions of the continent. However, these regions are also inhabited by many kangaroo species.

Humans have always had an impact on kangaroos in Australia. Already the aborigines fed on the meat of kangaroos.

Habitat loss and land fragmentation

rural area in Australia

Habitat loss and fragmentation continues to have a major impact on the kangaroo population today. Intensive agriculture as well as mass logging of forests since the 19th century is destroying the habitat of many small kangaroo species. Some wallaby species even became extinct.


road train in Australia
Road train in Australia. Image Source: Rhys Moult (modified)

Drivers in Australia know the situation: Suddenly a kangaroo hops in front of the car and avoiding it is sometimes impossible.

Some drivers equip their vehicles with "bull bars" or "roobars". This is to reduce the damage to the vehicle. However, this increases fuel consumption and removes the vehicle's built-in crumple zone. But what danger do vehicles like cars and trucks pose to kangaroos? How many kangaroos are killed by vehicles?

In a study in outback Australia, 0.03 kangaroos per road kilometer were killed by vehicles during the 6-month observation period. Collision deaths are therefore not a major risk factor for kangaroos.

Most kangaroos were caught by vehicles in the open plains, and especially in curves. The probability of colliding with a kangaroo increases sharply, especially at night. This is also due to the fact that kangaroos are nocturnal animals.

In Australia, kangaroos are most commonly involved in wildlife collisions, followed by wallabies. In some cases, up to 80% of all wildlife damage is related to kangaroos.

Commercial use of kangaroos

Kangaroos have been hunted by humans for thousands of years. Then as now, the meat of the animals as well as the fur of the animals is of interest to people. In Australia there are some zones where the hunting of kangaroos is allowed with a certain quota.

New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia allow commercial hunting of kangaroos in certain areas.

cooked kangaroo meat

How does kangaroo meat taste?

The meat is edible for humans, tastes good, has a red color similar to beef and spreads an intense smell when cooked. The meat has little fat and contains a lot of proteins.

Kangaroo meat is available in Australian supermarkets in the refrigerated section.

About 40% of the kangaroo meat obtained is processed into pet food (dog and cat food).

Commercial hunting of kangaroos also serves to control the kangaroo population. In areas with many kangaroos, the animals often pose a problem for farmers and foresters in agriculture. Reforestation is made more difficult by kangaroos, as they eat the young shoots.

Are bushfires a danger to kangaroos?

kangaroo in the bushes
Image Source: Scott Fletcher

Kangaroos have always lived with the danger posed by bushfires. But what influence do bushfires have on kangaroos?

Local bushfires have a minor impact on kangaroo populations. Especially large kangaroos can quickly flee from the fire. For smaller kangaroo species, bushfires can become fatal.

Larger kangaroo species can move quickly and escape well from smaller local brush fires.

However, larger brush fires can destroy habitat for extended periods of time and make foraging difficult. Often the water is also contaminated after major fires.

The fires claim a large number of victims, especially among smaller kangaroo species as well as juveniles.

In principle, however, Australian bushfires have a minor impact on the overall kangaroo population. Australia is a huge continent. Even large bushfires only affect a very small part of the continent.

In the affected regions, commercial use of kangaroos is usually suspended for some time to allow the kangaroo population to recover.