Man punches kangaroo, internet hops into the fight

A kangaroo puts a dog in a headlock. A man rushes in to help and punches the 'roo in the face. The whole thing is caught on video. Cue internet meltdown.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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Eric Mack
4 min read

The moment is straight out of a vintage cartoon: A large kangaroo buck and an even larger guy put up their dukes and prepare to go to blows. The human connects a wholly unimpressive jab/hook thing to the 'roo's snout, leaving the animal clearly bewildered.

Unlike an old cartoon, though, the kangaroo was lacking cliche boxing gloves and the bout ignited a debate on the internet after the above video of the match went viral this week. Does the video show the unnecessary abuse of a wild animal, or a zookeeper on his day off acting quickly to defuse a dangerous situation?

On first viewing to the untrained eye it sure looks like the man sucker punches the 'roo with little provocation, but the whole story might read a little differently under closer examination with full context.

The backstory of the blow begins with a boar-hunting trip organized for a young man with a terminal cancer diagnosis (who died shortly after the video was shot). During the hunt on private property in New South Wales, the buck grabbed one of the group's dogs, holding it by a chest plate designed to protect against sharp boar tusks.

Animals behaving badly amuse the internet

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As 6-foot-7-inch Grieg Tonkins runs to the rescue, the buck tries to land a blow to the dog's gut with its sharp foot claws but misses and the dog breaks free. The kangaroo then turns and advances on Tonkins, squaring up for a battle. This is when that vintage cartoon moment goes down.

The punch actually happened in June, but the video wasn't posted to Facebook and YouTube until Sunday. Since then, it's received over 23 million views combined and been licensed and viewed elsewhere all around the world. The response has been mixed to say the least.

A morning show host in Australia called for the man to be fired from the Taronga Western Plains Zoo.

"He knows the camera is on him and his first reaction is not to run away once the dog is released, but to front up and hit him," says host David Campbell.

PETA Australia posted about the incident on Facebook on Monday, quickly generating over 7,000 comments:

Reading through the comments or the 30,000 more on the original YouTube video is like an anecdotal education in everything from the training of boar-hunting dogs to Australia's laws against animal cruelty to the mating habits of kangaroos.

Meanwhile, at the center of the storm remains Tonkins, who doesn't appear to be losing his job, according to a statement from the zoo where he works:

"Mr Tonkins is an experienced Zoo keeper and during his six years at Taronga Western Plains Zoo has always followed Taronga's best practice approach to animal care and welfare. We confirm that there is no suggestion of Mr Tonkins' employment at Taronga Western Plains Zoo ending as a result of this event."

The zoo also said it "strongly opposes the striking of animals and does not support the practice of using dogs to hunt, as this can result in negative welfare for both species."

In fact, according to the government of New South Wales, the best thing to do in the event of a kangaroo confrontation is to "...move well clear. Try not to attract the kangaroo's attention and keep your head and arms low... If you are attacked, drop to the ground and curl into a ball with your hands protecting your face and throat."

There's definitely no hint there that punching a kangaroo in the face is a good idea; in fact, kangaroos are a protected species and injuring them is illegal.

But as with most internet freak-outs, this one is largely over nothing. Watching the slow motion section of the video makes it more clear that the kangaroo was acting with an aggressive posture to the dog and then to Tonkins. Government guidelines encourage choosing a controlled flight over fight as the appropriate response, but Tonkins sized up the situation and chose controlled fight over flight. After landing a single (and rather weak) punch followed by a brief stare down, Tonkins stops and retreats, satisfied the situation is diffused.

He may have just been lucky that the kangaroo was stunned enough by Tonkins' foreign moves that it didn't disembowel him or gouge his eyes out. Maybe the kangaroo would have let him walk away even if it hadn't been stunned by the punch. Who knows? Still, for that kangaroo on that day it was a choice that ended with a positive outcome -- all parties walked or hopped away with no permanent damage.

If there are losers here, it's the rest of us, who lost hours of productivity this week to yet another comment battle on social media (and YouTube's deep, deep well of other kangaroo videos).

What do you think? Keep the constant flow of comments on the debate going below, or hit me up on Twitter at @ericcmack.