Wildlife authorities said the usually harmless, grass-eating Eastern Gray kangaroos are being driven by hunger from the drought-stricken countryside around Canberra, into the city of 320,000 where the town water supply has kept conditions greener.
The Australian Capital Territory Environment Department warned residents to beware after a woman was attacked by a kangaroo while walking her poodle in a city park last week and another woman reported a kangaroo had drowned her golden retriever in a pond and seriously injured two other dogs in an unprovoked attack.
Government wildlife ecologist Murray Evans said the danger was that city folk forgot that the beloved symbol of Australia was also a wild animal that can grow as tall and heavy as a man.
"Kangaroos don't come bounding out of the bush looking for people to attack," Evans told The Associated Press. "It's usually kangaroos minding their own business and people thinking they're cute and cuddly and getting too close."
Hunger has broken the kangaroos' usual routine of lazing in the shade of trees by day and feeding during the night.
Kangaroos are now more likely to be seen feeding during the day, particularly on well-watered open spaces such as golf courses and sporting fields, which makes them likely to come into contact with humans.
Also because of the drought, Evans said kangaroos are less likely to flee when they feel threatened by a human in an urban environment.
"Because of the shortage of feed, they're more likely to stand their ground when they've found grass, particularly the big males," he said.
When a kangaroo attacks, it attempts to fight a human as it would a kangaroo.
"It looks like boxing, but they don't actually curl their paws up and punch," Evans said. "They spar, taking swipes at each other with their (upper) paws, scratching and grappling.
"They can even rest back on their tails and try to kick you and that's when you can really get some serious injuries."
A University of New England researcher into kangaroo and human interaction in urban areas, Guy Ballard, said humans forget that they are dealing with an animal that can tip the scales at 176 pounds.
"It's very rare for people to be attacked by kangaroos," Ballard said. "But a male Eastern Gray kangaroo can be as big as an average man so if conflict does occur, there's a potential for people to be hurt."
He knew of only a handful of reported kangaroo attacks on humans in the past year, including one in a household kitchen.
An advertising campaign, partially sponsored by the government warns motorists of the heightened kangaroo road hazard, with 90 to 160 kangaroos killed on Canberra streets each month.
By Rod McGuirk