Photos of a male kangaroo “grieving” his female companion have captured attention all around the world, but a scientist from the Australian Museum says they’re not what they appear to be.
“Great photos of the kangaroos, but I think they are fundamentally misinterpreted,” asserts AM Principal Research Scientist Dr Mark Eldridge. He believes the male is actually in a state of sexual arousal.
“"The male is clearly highly stressed and agitated, his forearms are very wet from him licking himself to cool down.”
“He is also sexually aroused: the evidence is here sticking out from behind the scrotum (yes, in marsupials the penis is located behind the scrotum)."
Dr Eldridge believes the male most likely chased the female to death by overheating. Kangaroos are notoriously sensitive to heat.
It also appears that the male is propping up her head so she could see her joey before she died. Not so, says Dr Eldridge.
“This is a male trying to get a female to stand up so he can mate with her. Eastern Grey kangaroos can breed throughout the year, but mating mainly occurs in spring and early summer.”
Evan Switzer, who took the pictures at River Heads in Queensland, originally told reporters that the photos captured the heart-warming moment when the male cradled the head of his companion in grief as she passed away.
It appears this is a classic case of anthropomorphism. While it’s in our nature to assign human feelings and behaviours to animals, the truth tends to be much more scientific – and much less cute.