Mungo in Outback Australia has been home to families for millions of years.
Mothers have taught their daughters and sons the skills they need to thrive in the desert. The daughters have passed on their knowledge to their own babies.
Kangaroos have been living in the Outback for 25 million years. The land has changed around them, but their strong social structure has ensured their success in all conditions.
At Vigars Well, in Mungo National Park, a near-permanent spring has provided water to thousands of generations of kangaroos.
But in March 2017, the spring was dry.
We drove into the carpark in the late afternoon. All was quiet. The grey mud of the waterhole had dried and formed huge cracks. We knew there would be no sightings of desert birds drinking this evening.
But Mungo always has something up her sleeve.
As we approached the silent waterhole we got a shock. From the depths of a hole, out popped a head.
A Chocolate (Western Grey) Kangaroo head!
She looked around once or twice, then disappeared again for a long minute. She was drinking.
The hole was deep enough to completely hide a full grown kangaroo. What’s more, there were several similar-looking holes in the spring. Had they dug the hole themselves?
Two more kangaroos hopped onto the dry waterhole, a mother and a joey. The mother paused, looking around.
Joey bounced over to the drinking kangaroo’s hole and tried to share.
The drinking kangaroo bounced up, furious. She struck at the joey with her hands, ears laid back. Joey stumbled backwards.
But the joey was a brave little soul. He looked at his mum, still calmly waiting, then tried again to share the hole with the drinking kangaroo.
This time she bounced up out of the hole and chased the joey away. Drinking holes are not for sharing. Joeys must be taught the correct etiquette, and sometimes firmness is required!
Joey rejoined his mum, and together they investigated the other holes on the spring. Each found one that served the purpose, and both settled in to drink.
Later, when the kangaroos had gone, we investigated the holes. The digging marks of many kangaroo hands could be seen. We presume they dug the holes themselves, over some time.
Kangaroos, like elephants, know their environment very well and pass on their knowledge through their family. They know where to find food, water and shelter in all seasons, even the extreme ones. They even know how to create the resources they need – in this case by digging their own well.
As the Mungo landscape has changed through ice ages, droughts, and warm wet times kangaroos have adapted. Read about kangaroo fossil history at Mungo here. Their biggest challenge, though, might be human-induced climate change which is predicted to wipe out kangaroos from half of their current range.
Knowledge of Mungo is a legacy passed on by a mother kangaroo to her daughter. Do we have the right to steal it from them, just because our governments can’t be bothered switching from an old-fashioned fossil fuel industry to renewables?
See the kangaroos of Mungo on the 4 day Mungo Outback Journey.