The story of this viral photo of a kangaroo in "mourning" for a dead female has taken a sinister turn. It seems the adult male was probably just hot and horny.
BuzzFeed News reported yesterday on the heartbreaking images of an adult male and a young joey surrounding the body of a dead female.
The man who took the photos, 49-year-old Evan Switzer from Queensland's Sunshine Coast, told BuzzFeed News he watched the roos for quite some time, and thought they were in mourning for a friend.
"The male was standing over the female. He was trying to pick the female up. I sat there for a bit and thought this was pretty amazing," he said.
"It was like something you see in the movies. Where someone stands over a body and says 'no, no. Please don't die'. It was something amazing to watch. I've never seen it in wildlife before."
But according to experts, the ’roo was just horny and a little stressed out.
Mammal experts contacted by BuzzFeed News said it was likely that the young joey is the female's offspring and was concerned for its mother's wellbeing, as well as its own, given the mother is a joey's source of food and protection. They also said it's extremely unusual for a male adult to display mourning behaviours like the ones observed by Switzer.
That suggestion has now been backed up by Mark Eldridge, principal research scientist at the Australian Museum.
"Great photos of the kangaroos, but I think they are fundamentally misinterpreted," Eldridge said on the museum's blog.
"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)."
Kangroos are extremely sensitive to heat, says Eldridge. Furthermore, the kangaroo is not, unfortunately, 'propp[ing] up her head so she could see her joey before she died'. Instead, says 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. The younger individual is probably the female last pouch young who may be still suckling."