The largest, and perhaps most famous of the macropod family (that is, creatures with large feet) are Australia’s iconic hopping delight, the Kangaroo. Used as a national symbol appearing on the Australian coat of arms, some of its currency, and a variety of other places, this unique saltatating (jumping) creature has become a mainstay of Australian culture.
Considered a cultural icon in their homeland, kangaroos are believed to exist only in their native Australia. But alas, perhaps all the wonderful treatment kangaroos get Down Under just isn’t enough; in spite of our scientific understanding that the creatures are endemic to Australia, anomalous appearances of the creatures elsewhere have occasionally turned up over the years, lending to theories of “Screaming Kangaroos” and large marsupials existing in parts of the United States.
Before we delve into reports of the creatures here in the states, it might be interesting to note that kangaroos were actually considered to be kind of anomalous even before their introduction to mainstream Western audiences. Europeans have long regarded kangaroos as strange animals. Early explorers described them as “creatures having heads like deer without antlers which stood upright like men, and hopped like frogs.” The use of “heads” in the plural sense is no typo, mind you; initial sightings of the creatures carrying their young led many to perceive them as having what appeared to be a second head growing out of their abdomen. Such factors no doubt helped lead Europeans back home to dismiss them as travelers’ tales up until their eventual capture and classification.
Here in the United States, reports of what have been called “phantom kangaroos” have been chronicled for decades, namely by researchers like Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman. In the state of Tennessee going back as far back as 1934, an “atypical kangaroo” was reportedly killing and partially devouring several animals, including German shepherd dogs in mid to late January. One witness, Reverend W. J. Hancock, described the animal as “looking like a large kangaroo, running and leaping across a field.” Another witness, Frank Cobb, claimed to have found a dismembered Alsatian, which he believed had been killed by the phantom marsupial. According to legend, a search party was formed, which followed the kangaroo’s prints to a nearby cave, where the trail ran out. The alleged “killer kangaroo” was never apprehended.
In addition to raising many eyebrows, this report raises a variety of questions; kangaroos, known to be strict herbivores, wouldn’t be killing and devouring small animals, let alone German shepherds. Additionally, the only reliably documented case of a kangaroo attack resulting in a human death occurred in New South Wales, in 1936, where a hunter was killed after trying to rescue his two dogs from a fight that had ensued with a kangaroo. The only other suggested causes for violent behavior among kangaroos includes extreme thirst and hunger, which may be worthy of consideration as a factor in this case, having occurred during the winter of 1934. Still, over the last few years there have been a number of attempts to label the story as a hoax by the late Horace N. Minnis, of the Chattanooga Times. Historians have pointed out, however, that Minnis was not a newspaper correspondent for the area at that time, though many newspaper writers of the period were known to “create” news of this sort when daily news in their area was lacking. Regardless, the video below illustrates kangaroos and their destructive potential, with their unique ability to balance on their strong tails and kick with their massive feet:
Some four decades later in the early morning hours of October 18, 1974, Officer Michael Byrne and Leonard Ciagi of the Chicago police were called after a kangaroo was allegedly seen standing on someone’s porch. After a brief search that ensued, in this incident the officers did in fact locate a kangaroo hiding in a nearby alleyway, but were unable to capture it. Jerome Clark detailed the strange account in his book Unexplained! 347 Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences, and Puzzling Physical Phenomena.Soon after the incident in Chicago, Clark points out that kangaroo sightings were being reported in other parts of Illinois, as well as Wisconsin. A kangaroo was seen on October 19 by a paperboy, and again on the 23rd in Schiller Woods on Chicago’s Northwest side. Another police officer claimed to see the kangaroo on November 1 in Plano, just outside the city. The creature reportedly leaped eight feet from a field onto a nearby road. Half an hour later the leaping phantom was seen again, this time all the way back in Chicago city limits.
For three days after this rash of sightings in Illinois the animal was witnessed in the surrounding countryside, preceding another series of eyewitness accounts that began in Indiana. Four years later in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, two men managed to photograph a large phantom kangaroo beside the highway; the image has since become famous among Fortean circles of study.
Brian Joseph related a peculiar sighting at The Daily Grail, which occurred in Northern California in 1981 after several evenings where “screaming” had been heard in the woods nearby:
I caught sight of something in a clearing about 200 feet away from me. I thought that it was a deer sitting down the same way a dog sits down. My dog caught sight of it the same time I did and started to run towards it. Thats when I realized that it was not a deer, it took huge hops, looked like a kangaroo and let out a repeated burst of the sound that I had been hearing for months. The dog chased and the thing hop/leaped and turned. The dog followed a bit into a brush area and then came back out, the same as other times that the sound had been heard. This was in the days before the internet so trying to find out information on it was not easy. I tried to find out what type of sounds kangaroos make and anything I found never mentioned a bird like noise or anything like that. I also wondered if it was somehow associated with a UFO that myself and another person had witnessed in the area in late 1980.
The strange noises he had heard seemed to lead him to refer to the creature as being a “screaming kangaroo”. Indeed, kangaroos make noises, but in this example the noises sound more reminiscent of the “grunting” various species of deer make.
Reported causes for the appearance of “phantimals” of this sort can indeed be linked to escaped pets also, though phantom ‘roo appearances have been documented in parts of Europe and other locales as well. Where else could these unique animals have come from? Are Kangaroos capable of more mischief than we give them credit, or just perhaps, are they able to use those powerful back legs for swimming long, long, long distances?
Hey, as unlikely as this sounds, they obviously seem to get around!