Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 40 [61]

   The Major Roos

The Western Grey

Photo: Ray Mjadwesch

It took a while for the Western Grey to be differentiated from the Eastern, let alone designated a separate species. It first entered western/invader discourse in 1802, when Matthew Flinders and his very hungry crew landed on Kangaroo Island (which took its name from the visit) in March 1802. ‘On going towards the shore,’ he wrote in his Voyage to Terra Australis (1814),

a number of dark-brown kangaroos were seen feeding upon a grass plat by the side of the wood; and our landing gave them no disturbance. I had with me a double-barrelled gun, fitted with a bayonet, and the gentlemen my companions had muskets. It would be difficult to guess how many kangaroos were seen; but I killed ten, and the rest of the party made up the number to thirty-one, taken on board in the course of the day.

Flinders thought they were the same species he had been used to seeing on the east coast. Ditto the French explorer Nicholas Baudin who, a year later, captured a number of kangaroos on Kangaroo Island that (although Baudin himself did not survive the journey), eventually reached Paris, when they spent a few years, misidentified, imprisoned in the menagerie of the Jardin des Plantes. When zoologists at the Paris Museum of Natural History corrected the record in 1817, they misidentified their geographic origin as Tasmania (thus confusing them with the Forester). The whole matter wasn’t clarified for another hundred years. Now the Kangaroo Island kangaroos (Macropus fuliginosus fuliginosus) are recognised as a subspecies of the Western Grey.

Clearly the Western Greys are different from the Eastern. Like the Eastern Grey, the Western has hair covering most of the rhinarium, but it is darker. The Western Grey (Macropus fuliginosus: ‘fuliginous’ = sooty, dusky) is sometimes called the sooty kangaroo, the black-faced kangaroo, or (with reference to its distribution, a part of which is in western Victoria, rather than its colour), the Mallee kangaroo. All of which is to say that it is of a darker brown/grey colour that the Eastern Grey, and has a darker head. Its range can be imaged (if you think of Australia as a big foot…) as a slipper covering most of Australia’s southern coastline, with its heel extending from Shark Bay, Victoria, up toward Queensland through the Murray-Darling basin, and (the bridge over the Great Australian Bight) the toe at the west coast of western Australia.

Though the Eastern Grey female will sometimes – but only rarely – manifest embryonic diapause, the Western Grey does not manifest it at all, which is not to say that her system is not able to avail itself, in winter or in times of drought, of the quite distinct yet related phenomenon of seasonal anoestrous, or temporary cessation of ovulation.

A little less significant, perhaps, but curious nevertheless, the male Western Grey is sometimes called the Stinker, for the strong curry-smell he gives off. It sounds as if it wouldn’t bother me, but then I’ve never been close enough to tell.

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