WARNING: Graphic images below.
- A rural site north of Sydney has become an unofficial tourism attraction because people can interact with kangaroos
- People are feeding the animals to get their attention, but it has begun to change their behaviour and some roos have become aggressive
- Several visitors have been injured, hospitalised and needed stitches as a result
- A local politician is calling for a coordinated response to improve facilities at the unofficial site and educate people about the dangers
When overseas visitors are told stories of Australia’s deadliest creatures, kangaroos do not normally top the list.
Sharks, snakes, spiders, yes. But not that nice hopping animal with a baby in a pouch.
However, a cult tourism destination north of Sydney has become the subject of concerns about people feeding wild animals after a spate of attacks by the kangaroos seeking food from visitors.
In March one man was almost disemboweled by a kangaroo that left a deep gouge in his stomach that saw him taken to hospital via ambulance. Another man required 17 stitches in his face. Several others have been injured.
On weekends, hundreds of people are heading to bushland at the rear of the psychiatric hospital at Morriset on the southern side of Lake Macquarie, a two hour drive from Sydney. The town’s train station is 4.5km away and many people are walking there.
The area, bounded by National Park and State Forest, is also an animal sanctuary and for decades patients and nurses have befriended the kangaroos to the point where they no longer afraid of human contact.
The site has now become well known thanks to websites such as TripAdvisor and up to 1500 people a week are turning up to walk among the marsupials. To get their attention, humans are feeding them everything from carrots to fast food.
Shane Lewis has lived in the area for three decades and takes visitors to the site on his shuttle service, Kroosn, but he and his wife became so concerned and distressed about the behavioural changes they observed from feeding the ‘roos that they lobbied their local MP, Greg Piper, to take action.
This week Piper, the member for Lake Macquarie, raised the issue in the New South Wales parliament, calling on the local health service, council and national parks to develop a co-ordinated response to deal with the problem and manage the site, where security guards keep tourists away from the psychiatric patients in the adjacent mental facility, more effectively.
The MP, who has produced his own YouTube video (see below) in a bid to educate people, said “now the tourism genie is out of the bottle we cannot reasonably put it back”, so it needs to be better managed. Because it’s in the grounds of the mental hospital, there are no toilets or even rubbish bins.
“The only thing we can do is to educate people about the dangers and find a way of managing the situation, not just for the safety of visitors and the hospital’s residents, but also for the kangaroos themselves,” he told parliament, adding that he’s been there and witnessed people feeding the ‘roos corn chips.
Here’s his Facebook message to visitors to the area:
Piper wants multilingual warning signs, and says he will asking the Ministers for Health and the Environment for help to keep everyone safe.
Shane Lewis brings up to a third of the visitors to the site, which he says is unique in Australia.
“Outside of a wildlife park, I don’t known anywhere else were you can go up to kangaroos and pat them without them jumping away,” he said.
“But these are wild animals, so you shouldn’t feed them.”
Over the past 2.5 years, visits to the site have become a core part of his business, but he feels a strong sense of duty to protect both the animals and the people visiting them. He does his best to educate his clients about the dangers of feeding the ‘roos having witnessed repeatedly the change of mood, primarily in the male animals, when food is produced.
But Lewis has stepped in on multiple occasions warn people about the dangers of feeding the kangaroos, as well as intervening to stop people being attacked, or protecting them after an attack. He’s taken several photos of the injuries that have occurred over the last 12 months and shared them with Business Insider.
Here they are – they are graphic and disturbing:
Lewis admits he’s not the most diplomatic of people when he bowls up to strangers to warn them about feeding the kangaroos, and some take offence, but adds “you wouldn’t put your kid’s hands near a dog that’s eating, so why would you let them do this with a wild animal?”
Alan Bond’s boxing kangaroo flag during the 1983 America’s may have added a comic element to how kangaroos fight, but among the males seeking dominance in a mob, it’s literally a deadly business, with a kick from the powerful hind legs. While kangaroos have been blamed for up to 20 deaths in Australia over the past decade, they’ve involved collisions with the animals in vehicles, numerous Australians have lost household pets, mostly dogs, to a fatal kick from a ‘roo.
Last year, a fitness trainer jogging through forest outside Melbourne was attacked by a kangaroo and required surgery.
Shane Lewis argues there needs to be penalties imposed for people who feed the kangaroos so the message about how serious this situation is sinks in.
“I’m not an expert on kangaroos, but I’ve seen the way their behaviour changes when there’s food,” he said.
“I want people to enjoy the experience of people coming here, don’t agree with people feeding the animals. That has to stop.”
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