Do Kangaroos Really Box?

By: Jesslyn Shields  | 

kangaroos boxing
Two kangaroos engage in a "boxing fight" in Weston Park, Canberra, Australia. Kangaroos are large marsupials that are found only in Australia. Xinhua/Justin Qian via Getty Images

In Australia, if you show up at a sports match — whether it's tennis, football, cricket or rugby — it's likely you'll see the image of a kangaroo wearing boxing gloves. The boxing kangaroo dates back to the 1890s, a symbol of the Australian fighting spirit. And even if you haven't been to an Australian sporting event, you've probably seen the image in cartoons or on the package of some snack food — the boxing kangaroo was even the official symbol of the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II. But do kangaroos actually box?

Well, boxing is a little bit of a stretch, but Australia's most famous marsupial has a defense behavior that looks quite a bit like boxing. Australia is full of dangerous predators like dingos, eagles and humans. All four species of kangaroo — red kangaroo, antilopine kangaroo, eastern gray kangaroo and western gray kangaroo — have large, powerful back legs and a long, muscular tail that can support the animal's entire body weight while delivering a powerful kick to a predator. Kangaroo attacks on humans are rare, but there have been cases of kangaroos killing or severely injuring people.

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The way kangaroos fight each other is much more like boxing than the way they fend off predators. A kangaroo's front legs are shorter and less powerful than their hindlegs, and although they will use both front and back legs in a fight with a dingo, the males scrap with each other during mating season in a ritualized sort of boxing match.

In order to sort out which of them gets to mate with a particular female, two male kangaroos will square up, sit back on their big tails and take swipes at each others heads and stomachs with the long claws on their front legs, kind of like a slap fight you'd get into with your sibling when you were a kid. They'll even grab each others forearms and rock back and forth, using their tails for stability.

kangaroos boxing
Heavyweight champion Primo Carnera 'sparring' with Jo-Jo the kangaroo in Atlantic City, circa 1933.
FPG/Getty Images

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