This little kangaroo is so special that the whole island was named after it!
Way back in 1802 British explorer Captain Matthew Flinders came to Kangaroo Island while on an expedition to map the southern coastline of Australia. It was during this visit that Flinders made the first ever recorded European sighting of the Island and its resident macropod. Kangaroos were found in abundant numbers on the Dudley Peninsula, where he anchored his HMS Investigator in the harbour.
Flinders wrote in a journal at the time: "After coming to an anchor, some black substances were seen moving about on the shore, by some of the young gentlemen, and were thought to be animals of some kind, but the wiser ones who thought they were lumps of stone, and that imagination supplied them with motion, laughed at this, asking if they were not elephants.
The whole ship's company was employed this afternoon in skinning and cleaning the kanguroos [sic]; and a delightful regale they afforded, after four months privation from almost any fresh provisions. Half a hundredweight of heads, fore quarters and tails were stewed down into soup for dinner on this and the succeeding days; and as much steaks given, moreover, to both officers and men, as they could consume by day and by night. In gratitude for so seasonable a supply I named this southern land Kanguroo [sic] Island."
Flinders mistakenly assumed that the kangaroos were eastern grey kangaroos. A year after Flinders' visit to the island and based on a conversation that two visiting explorers had at Encounter Bay, French explorer Nicolas Baudin also visited the island and stayed for 3 weeks.
Baudin captured several of the Kangaroo Island kangaroos and had them sent to Paris where they were kept at the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes for some years.
It was nearly 15 years later that researchers at the Paris Museum of Natural History discovered that the Kangaroo Island kangaroos were distinctly different from the other eastern grey kangaroos they had at the zoo. Unfortunately, when formally recording the species as being different, they described it as being native to Tasmania, rather than to South Australia.
In 1917, researchers realised that the Tasmanian kangaroo was the same as the eastern grey. It wasn't until 1971 that it finally was resolved that the Kangaroo Island kangaroo was a sub-species of the western grey kangaroo. Three subspecies were described - two on the Australian mainland and one on Kangaroo Island.
It is the subspecies with the unusually duplicated name of Macropus fuliginosus fuliginosus which gives the island its name.
The Kangaroo Island kangaroo is also known as the Sooty Kangaroo. This kanga has noticeable differences to the western grey - they are a shorter and stockier frame and have much darker, almost chocolate coloured fur. There are black tips on their ears, feet and tail too - they look very different to the mainland kangaroo. They're also the slowest moving species of kangaroo in Australia.
The Kangaroo has a very gentle nature to match its looks. They are not flighty but appear to be quite curious. While walking in tall grassland near the Cape Willoughby lighthouse, a couple of kangaroos popped up just metres from me and I was really surprised at how comfortable they seemed to be with me there. They showed no sign of nervousness or in moving away. I think this could be due to the fact that the kangaroo has no predator on the island.
Rabbits and foxes were introduced to Kangaroo Island in the 1800's but thankfully that introduction was unsuccessful.
Kangaroo Island is nationally important, being one of the largest feral free areas in Australia. Domestic cats and dogs are still a threat to the wildlife, but the Australian Government have commenced a 3-stage feral cat eradication program which will hopefully see the island free of feral cats by 2030.
The Kangaroo Island kangaroo is not under threat and is classified as of "least concern" on the IUCN Red List. All Australian native animals are protected by the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972.
Kangaroo Island is Australia's 3rd largest island and is off the coast of South Australia. Travelling there requires a boat or plane trip and is most definitely worth a visit!