Boxing Kangaroos: Why Do Kangaroos Box Each Other?

Written by Hannah Ward
Updated: October 14, 2022
Image Credit Breathes/Shutterstock.com
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Kangaroos are one of the best known Australian animals. They are large marsupials that are known for their long back legs and distinctive bounding gait.  As well as that, they are famed for the fierce and brutal fights that they have.  Known as “boxing”, these fights are a vitally important part of everyday life for kangaroos.  But what exactly is boxing and why do they do it?  Join us as we discover why kangaroos box each other.

What is Boxing and how do Kangaroos do it?

Largest Kangaroos - Buff Kangaroo
Kangaroos will often box and kick for dominance in mating.

A Life Beneath Stars/Shutterstock.com

Kangaroos are well known as being serious fighters and they partake in the unique phenomenon that is known as boxing.  Boxing is ritualized fighting between male kangaroos and is often likened to boxing matches between humans.  Once a boxing match is initiated it involves a lot of circling, grappling, punching, and kicking.

Boxing matches usually begin with the kangaroos grasping each others necks with their forepaws and wrestling.  When they’re fighting kangaroos throw their heads back to try to protect their eyes.  This is because kangaroos have extremely sharp claws which can easily do serious damage to their opponents eyes.  As well as wrestling they hit and slap each others chest, neck, face, throat, and shoulders as they try to force each other down.  Circling and pushing, striking and grappling, boxing matches are not for the faint hearted, but kangaroos have another weapon that they use to full effect – their hind legs.

Kicking

Kangaroo males boxing on the shore of a lake
Boxing kangaroos balance on their tails so they can kick their opponent

Breathes/Shutterstock.com

We all know how unique kangaroos are with their super long and powerful hind legs which they use to bounce along on at great speeds, but they use them in fights too.  Kangaroos literally use their hind legs to kick box their opponent.  However, the key to their ability to do this is in their tail.  This is because they actually balance on their tails while kicking out with their back legs.  However, they can only do this because their tail is extremely strong and muscular – strong enough to hold their entire weight.  Kangaroos lean back and balance on their tail while they lift both hind legs off their floor and kick out at their opponents chest and belly.

When kangaroos use their hind legs in a boxing match they really do mean business.  They have immense strength in those legs and they use them to kick their opponent hundreds of times in a fight.  Just like on their forepaws, kangaroos have really sharp claws on their back feet and these can do some serious damage.  This is why male kangaroos have thicker skin on their bellies – to protect them from the sharp claws and punishing blows.  As well as causing pain and injuries, a well timed and well aimed kick can send an opponent flying backwards or even onto the ground.  This can be vital for a kangaroo to gain the upperhand by forcing the other male down and inflicting more blows to him.

Why do Kangaroos Box?

Sparring

Young kangaroos play box, or spar, as a way to learn vital skills for later on in life.  These play fights help them to hone their skills and ready them for real fights when they are older.  The skills that they learn as youngsters are essential for helping them to win fights when they are adults.  Play fights can be between two young kangaroos, or even between a mother and her joey.  Quite often this is the mother’s way of preparing her joey for life as an adult.  Sometimes the mother initiates the fight while other times the joey initiates it.  Sparring usually involves the kangaroos holding each others necks and grappling with each other.  Sometimes they even kick each other just like they would in a real fight. This is so they can learn how to balance on their tail and how to time their kicks to perfection.

Access to Females

The main reason that kangaroos box is for access to the females for mating

iStock.com/JohnCarnemolla

The most common reason that male kangaroos box each other is to demonstrate their dominance and secure a female mate.  Generally only the dominant male mates with the females.  However, all of the other males also want to have a chance with them too.  Therefore, just like many other animals, males fight over females.  When it comes to kangaroos, males box to determine who is the most dominant male and who gets to mate with the females.  As well as having access to the females and the chance to father joeys, the dominant male is the kangaroo that leads the entire mob.

Water

Many kangaroos live in areas where water is scarce and often fight over the best drinking spots.  Even female kangaroos fight over water, although only males take part in the ritualized boxing matches.  Boxing matches over water are generally between lower level male kangaroos, rather than the most dominant male.

How is Boxing Initiated?

Rarely are boxing fights ever completely unprovoked and there are a lot of subtle ways that boxing fights are initiated.  Sometimes a kangaroo can show it’s willingness for a fight by scratching their chests, grooming themselves excessively, or standing particularly tall.  Sometimes even something as simple as the way that they pull up grass can show they’re ready for a fight!  These actions are used as a way of showing their determination and readiness to fight.

The other male usually watches this display and decides whether the fight is worth it.  Quite often, when the resident dominant kangaroo male thinks that they are clearly bigger and  stronger than the young protagonist then they simply walk away.  In these cases they are certain that they will win and don’t think fighting is worth the effort.

How does Kangaroo Boxing End?

The winning male becomes the dominant male in the mob

Pawel Papis/Shutterstock.com

Boxing matches – particularly serious ones that are for access to females – can last for hours, with both males getting more bloody and worn out by the minute.  But how do they end?  It’s true, sometimes these fights will literally go on to the death, but often one kangaroo will eventually submit.  Some kangaroos, although not all, show submissiveness by coughing several times to signal their wish to end the fight.  Eastern grey kangaroos are a species that is particularly known for ending fights this way.  However, if a kangaroo doesn’t use coughing then he will just retreat and walk away from the fight, knowing that he is beaten.  The winner then becomes the dominant male who leads the mob and mates with the females.

Kangaroo males boxing on the shore of a lake

Breathes/Shutterstock.com
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About the Author

I have been writing professionally for several years with a focus on animals and wildlife. I love spending time in the outdoors and when not writing I can be found on the farm surrounded by horses, dogs, sheep, and pigs.

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