In Brief

Kangaroo 'mating not mourning', say experts

Scientists debunk photo and claim 'grieving' animal may actually have killed the female

160114-kangaroo.jpg

A photograph of kangaroos mourning the death of a female - labelled "heart-breaking" by the media - has been debunked by experts.

The image, which shows a male kangaroo holding the head of a dead female, is now believed to show the male trying to mate with the dead marsupial.

Writing in a blog, leading kangaroo expert Dr Mark Eldridge says the photographs show the animal "mate guarding" – holding other males at bay.

"This is a male trying to get a female to stand up so he can mate with her," he said.

As well as highlighting the "highly stressed and agitated" state of the kangaroo, which had been licking its forearms to cool down, he referred to further evidence of the animal's arousal "sticking out from behind the scrotum".

Dr Eldridge also told the BBC that there was no clear evidence that kangaroos mourned their dead.

"There is a strong bond between the mother and the young but it's hard to attribute emotions to those sorts of situations," he said.

"There does seem to be much clearer evidence of mourning with more intelligent mammals such as apes and elephants, but there is not clear evidence with kangaroos.

"These are not little people, they are kangaroos."

The images had been widely shared across social media, with one Australian newspaper publishing the picture on their front page under the headline: "Tender-roo."

Dr Derek Spielman, a senior lecturer in veterinary pathology at the University of Sydney, told the Guardian Australia he had "no doubt" the male was attempting to mate with the female and that he may have even caused the death of the animal in the process.

"Competition between males to mate with females can be fierce and can end in serious fighting," he said. "It can also cause severe harassment and even physical abuse of the target female, particularly when she is unresponsive or tries to get away from amorous male.

"Pursuit of these females by males can be persistent and very aggressive to the point where they can kill the female. That is not their intention but that unfortunately can be the result, so interpreting the male's actions as being based on care for the welfare of the female or the joey is a gross misunderstanding, so much so that the male might have actually caused the death of the female."

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