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One of the great icons of Australia, the kangaroo shares center stage with the Emu on the Australian Coat of Arms. It is a variety of hopping marsupial, or pouched mammal, of the family Macropodidae. The 45 varities can range from the tiny rat kangaroo at 12 inches, to the Red Kangaroo at 9 feet tall and the Eastern Greys topping 200 pounds. Kangaroos have powerful hind legs designed for leaping, long feet, short forelimbs, and long muscular tails. The hind legs are also used to deliver blows at enemies when the animal is cornered; the feet are sharply clawed. The tail serves as a balance when the animal leaps and as a prop when it stands; the usual posture is bipedal. The handlike forepaws are used for grasping. As in most marsupials, females have a pouch surrounding the teats. The single young is born in an immature state after a gestation period of about 40 days and is suckled in the mother´s pouch for about six months. After it begins to graze it returns frequently to the pouch for shelter and transport until it is too large to be carried. Kangaroos feed on grass and other vegetation; they are the chief grazers of the Australian plains. Day-active animals, they move about in herds called mobs and sleep on the ground at night. Males are called boomers, females flyers; the young are called joeys. They inhabit all parts of Australia and in many areas compete with livestock for grazing land. Determining the state of the kangaroo population is difficult as interest groups on both sides of the issue give conflicting assesments. It is safe to say that the kangaroo population is strong but that there is an ongoing "culling" program.
|Sheri Ann Richerson|