“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Hound of the Baskervilles
And so it is with many kangaroos at the moment.
We have been spending a lot of time in the Macedon Ranges area since Easter last year, and since the beginning were noticing odd kangaroos that were affected by something strange.
I wondered if it was poisoning or something else. In mid 2015 I went online and found a 2012 Melbourne university report mentioning similar symptoms and rang Pam Whitely who is named in the report, to find out more.
Kangaroos and Wallabies. We are keen to investigate reports of incoordinated, wobbly or apparently blind macropods. Kangaroo blindness virus is spread by midges. Phalaris staggers from pasture, and toxoplasmosis (from cat faeces) are other possible causes of incoordination and death. Eye and nasal discharge, sneezing and tail twitching have also been reported. If you see kangaroos or wallabies with any of these signs of disease, please contact us.
It turned out that there were still many questions and she was keen for us to try and get the body of an affected kangaroo to them for examination. The catch was that they needed the brain intact and it needed to be delivered to the university on a weekday.
If you must shoot a kangaroo, a head shot is the only ‘humane’ way*. So what to do?
I rang a local rescuer with a tranquiliser gun and he said he would be very happy to come out and help. The only problem was the terrain is quite challenging and you can’t ever know when you will come across an affected kangaroo, and despite their symptoms, they can still disappear, fast.
Time got away, and it seemed to settle down, but now many rescuers are being called out to kangaroos that appear ‘drunk’.
We spoke to one carer who swore it was the phalaris, a common pasture grass,
and another who swore it wasn’t. Video of one kangaroo affected by phalaris seems similar but different to what we are seeing. The fact is, nobody seems to know for sure and it is not something that has been identified in central Victoria before.
But now appears to be increasingly common.
One local rescuer, the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ of the title, wants a definitive answer and so she jumped onboard with us. She asked us to get a video and she arranged another rescuer to come out with a tranquiliser gun. We took a video that I will post on YouTube once we have some answers. Here are some grainy captures to highlight points we have observed in these roos.
Often, but not always alone. If in a mob they will be the last to hop off. Ears are often out flat. Look ‘vagued out’. Sometimes shake heads. Will let you get up closer than a healthy roo. Will be aware of your presence, but sometimes will look in your direction but seem not to see you. Often underweight.
When they do hop off it will be awkward, not in a straight line, many bounces are in a twisted motion and higher than usual. Badly affected ones will often fall over and roll on the ground and have difficulty getting up.
We did find a kangaroo who appeared to be affected (though not as badly as the one pictured) while we had the two wonderful rescuers there. Of course, conclusions will be hard to draw from one examination alone, as kangaroos can be affected by a large number of miseries (not the least of them being humans) but it is a hop in the right direction.
Thank you to the rescuers for their dedication to helping our native wildlife and to Melbourne Uni for its invaluable expertise. I will update with their findings when I hear back.
8 June 2016 Results have come back from testing and the kangaroo tested positive for chronic phalaris toxicity…the grass is to blame after all. Caligula would have it whipped. Or at least whipper-snipped. We have since heard of many more apparent cases in the area. More in Week 24.
“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence…”
*Before defending the barely regulated kangaroo killing industry, please ask how often do you think pissed cowboy shooters can hit a fast moving kangaroo accurately in its small head?
It is hard enough to accurately shoot an injured kangaroo at close range. I’ve seen it and it’s not pretty.