A viral photo of a 'grieving kangaroo' has apparently been misinterpreted, as the male kangaroo was sexually frustrated. Experts have said that the kangaroo was propping up the female in the hope that he could still mate with her, after possibly trying to kill her beforehand.
The image was captured by amateur photographer Evan Switzer on January 11, after he came across the marsupials believed to be mourning the loss of the joey's mother. However, it appears the male, seen holding the female's head in the photograph, was just feeling a bit horny.
"This is a male trying to get a female to stand up so he can mate with her," said Mark Eldridge, research scientist at the Australian Museum, on the museum's own blog. "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."
Kangaroos tend to mate at any given opportunity, and the image, which broke the heart of many on Twitter, was actually just an indication of this lust. They are not a monogamous species, and can 'tend to' several different females at once, sometimes even by force.
"[Competition between males] can cause severe harassment and even physical abuse of the target female, particularly when she is unresponsive or tries to get away from amorous male," Derek Spielman, from the University of Sydney, told Guardian Australia.
"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."
Leonie Petrie, wildlife rescuer from RSPCA Queensland also believes it is optimistic thinking to assume there were not ulterior motives. "It's a great photo and I love the idea of it all but ... I have been before to kangaroos who have been hit by a car with a broken leg and the males are still chasing them down," said Petrie.
"Unfortunately we do like to anthropomorphise these animals to think that they have these feelings we have, and they would grieve the loss of a loved one. Sadly in my opinion, I don't think that's the case."
The photographer captured the image in Rivers Head, Queensland. He quickly ran home to grab his camera when he spotted the kangaroos. "I have never seen anything like this in the wildlife before," said Switzer at the time. "I saw the male picking up the female, it was quite amazing to see. It was pretty special to me... mourning the loss of its mate."