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Does America Have a Secret Kangaroo Population?

And if not, what's that thing hopping in the distance?

Could America be hiding wild kangaroos?
Could America be hiding wild kangaroos? Chris Samuel/CC BY 2.0

Not all legendary creatures—cryptids, as they’re called—are supernatural monsters like Bigfoot or the Jersey Devil. Sometimes a cryptid is just a regular animal found in a place where it seems impossible that that animal could be. Such is the case of phantom kangaroos, supposed examples of the hopping boxers that are said to live in secret outside of their native Australia.

As far as conventional science is concerned, kangaroos of any and all variety are endemic to the Australian continent. They are not found anywhere else in the world. But if dubious reports of the elusive phantom kangaroo are to be believed, the iconic marsupials can be found all over the world.

Also known as “Errant Kangaroos,” according to multiple (admittedly spurious) cryptozoology guides, reports of these mythic marsupials began to appear at the turn of the 19th century. The most referenced initial sighting of these out of place animals dates back to 1899, when a woman in New Richmond, Wisconsin reported seeing a kangaroo run through her neighbor’s yard. According to an entry in Unexplained!: Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences, and Puzzling Physical Phenomena, the circus was in town at the time, and it was immediately assumed that the animal must have escaped. But it turned out that the circus didn’t keep a kangaroo in its menagerie.

An Australian kangaroo looking shifty.
An Australian kangaroo looking shifty. Kyle Taylor/CC BY 2.0

While the mysterious animal was never captured or spotted again, it was far from the last reported sighting of a wild kangaroo in the U.S. Allegedly, another wild kangaroo was spotted in 1907 in Pennsylvania. In Hidden Animals: A Field Guide to Batsquatch, Chupacabra, and Other Elusive Creatures, you can see the more outlandish legends that phantom kangaroos are also dangerous, bloodthirsty monsters. It mentions a sighting from 1934, near South Pittsburg, Tennessee, where a kangaroo-like creature attacked local pets and ate a pair of police dogs. A more extensive list of sightings can be found in famed cryptozoologist Loren Coleman’s book Mysterious America: The Ultimate Guide to the Nation’s Weirdest Wonders. The book covers many more kangaroo sightings down the ensuing decades in locations in Nebraska, Kansas, and Minnesota.

Maybe the most well-documented example of an errant kangaroo in the U.S., occurred in 1974 in and around Chicago. On October 18 that year, a kangaroo was discovered on the city’s Northwest Side. Police officers managed to corner the five-foot-tall animal in an alley, but before they could capture it, it bounded over a fence and escaped. According to a small piece in the Chicago Tribune the next month, the kangaroo was later spotted in Indiana, but once again disappeared. A number of other reports of kangaroo sightings sprung up around Illinois-Indiana in the later part of 1974, but no kangaroo was ever caught. 

Phantom kangaroo sightings in America have continued to crop up over the years. Coleman’s book alone mentions sightings around the U.S. and up into Canada throughout the rest of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. Most often they are described as out-of-place marsupials, but other reports mention red eyes, a ghost-like appearance, or describe the creature as frighteningly large. Even into the new millennium, reports continue to trickle in of phantom kangaroos glimpsed hopping across fields or standing on the roadside. There’s even a YouTube video from 2013 that claims to show a kangaroo bounding off across a field in Oklahoma. 

Supposedly, errant kangaroos have also been spotted in Japan and Europe—where at least one small breeding colony was established at Kew Gardens—but even abroad, these alleged sightings are hard to verify. Explanations for the sightings range from the classic escaped circus/zoo animal, to a misidentified dog or deer, to Coleman’s own theory that at least some of them aren’t kangaroos, but a totally different type of cryptid called a “devil monkey.”

As unlikely as it is, the simplest explanation would be that there is an unknown kangaroo population in America. All species of kangaroos are herbivores, and even in their native Australia, they are found living in habitats ranging from forests to grasslands. They can even weather colder temperatures. It’s not impossible that a kangaroo population could live off the land in the U.S., but as the largest marsupial on the planet, it would be hard for them hide.

Unfortunately, the American phantom kangaroo is probably nothing more than wishful thinking, but for those that want to believe, it’s a lot more likely than a Jersey Devil.