They are the cute and cuddly icons of Australia, but kangaroos are viciously attacking people at a popular NSW tourist spot, and an addiction to carrots is to blame.
“There are people getting kicked and scratched at least every day,” tourist shuttle bus driver Shane Lewis said.
“One lady got 17 stitches in her face from her eye to her chin.”
Every week, thousands of people flock to the unlikely tourist destination of Morisset Hospital in southern Lake Macquarie, where big mobs of kangaroos can always be found on the grassy slopes.
It’s less than a two-hour train ride from Sydney and the travel blogs promise “adorable wild kangaroos” that are “tame enough to get close to and take photos with”.
But too many tourists are dangling a carrot to get the perfect roo-selfie.
“The kangaroos see at least 2000 tourists a week and they don’t need 2000 carrots or bananas and bread, chips and biscuits,” Mr Lewis said.
I’ve even seen some silly people feeding them McDonalds, KFC, corn chips, oats and there are some foods they are very aggressive for.”
Mr Lewis has made a business out of shuttling people from the Morisset train station to the kangaroos at the hospital, but wants more done to prevent people feeding them.
He said he did his best to educate people and warn them of the dangers and, over the past eight months, has been collecting photos of injured tourists to help convey the message.
“Once I show them the photos they usually pull their kids away and put their food away when they know what can actually happen,” he said.
“There was a guy who got his stomach gashed open and he wasn’t even feeding them but … they’d been to McDonalds 10 minutes before, so whether they still had the food smell on them I have no idea, but for some reason the kangaroo took to him.”
Carrots as bad as chocolate
According to the experts the kangaroos have most likely lost their fear of people, and have grown hungrier for the unnatural food being delivered to them.
“If they see a carrot and they’ve been fed a carrot 100 times before by a tourist, then they’re going to come up and take that carrot,” said Andrew Daly, an animal keeper at the Australian Reptile Park.
“And in doing so they can be quite aggressive. They can kick, they can scratch with their front paws and do quite a bit of damage, especially when they’re trying to get those foods that they really like, or could be addicted to.”
And if you thought a carrot was healthier for a kangaroo than junk food, think again.
“They’re both just as bad in different ways,” Mr Daly said. “To a kangaroo a carrot is really, really high in sugar, so for us it’s quite healthy, but for a kangaroo it’s like having a chocolate bar.
“They can gorge or overfeed on them very easily.”
And the result will not just be a fat and angry kangaroo.
Mr Daly said feeding kangaroos anything other than grass could cause them to develop deadly diseases.
“One in particular is called lumpy jaw and it’s where high sugar diets or any food that can be a bit abrasive in the mouth causes cuts and lesions and then a bacteria will get into those cuts,” he said.
“From there the disease develops and it’s generally fatal.”
Mr Lewis has called for more warning signage and has enlisted the help of local Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper who on Tuesday night raised the issue in NSW Parliament.
“Despite a number of warning signs placed throughout the area, people still come in droves and they feed the kangaroos processed foods,” he told Parliament.
“I was there only last week and saw tourists attempting to feed the roos corn chips.”
Mr Piper said he didn’t want to see heavy regulation imposed, but suggested erecting better signage in multiple languages and a greater presence of National Parks and Wildlife rangers to inform and educate visitors.
He also dismissed the idea of closing off the area, which has organically grown into Lake Macquarie’s biggest tourist drawcard.
“I don’t see how you can close off the area, you can try and discourage them, but I don’t think that’s going to work,” Mr Piper said.
“The fact is that the site is open to the public and it’s so heavily advertised, it’s well known, the genie is out of the bottle … it’s something we just have to manage.”