Tourists have been warned against feeding the wildlife in Australia after an increase in kangaroo attacks have left guests with gory gashes.
Officials have said the attacks occurred while tourists attempted to feed the native animals junk food like corn chips and McDonald’s
“There have been a number of reported incidents in which kangaroos have attacked visitors, in one case causing a very deep gash to a man’s stomach,” the local MP, Greg Piper, told NSW parliament on Tuesday.
“In most cases they have been kicking out, clawing faces and grappling with people, causing lacerations or significant scratching … Recently one attacked a man, who required 17 stitches in his face,” Piper continued.
The attacks have been happening on the grounds of Morisset hospital, a psychiatric hospital and a popular tourist site near Lake Macquarie, where travel websites send people to see wild kangaroos for free.
Shane Lewis, a local tour bus operator, estimated there are about 2,000 visitors to the location per week, The Guardian reported. Lewis told the publication the kangaroos have learned to associate tourists with food.
“You can rustle a chip packet and they know what’s in there,” he said. “That makes them aggressive.
Piper said when he visited the site, he saw tourists holding out apples, bananas, corn chips and other processed foods to the wild animals, The Guardian reported. Kangaroos typically graze on grasses.
Disrupting the kangaroo’s natural diet can cause health problems, such as stomach ulcers, and cause aggression, according to the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.
“Another problem is research has shown animals can become quite addicted to sugar,” Michelle Shaw, a nutritionist at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo told The Guardian. “They are going to seek it out regardless of whether it is going to be good for them or not, so they can become quite aggressive.”
“The dangers are, you wouldn’t go near a dog when it’s eating its dinner, but people let their children go over, and I’ve seen kangaroos lash out thinking the kids going to take their food when they’re just coming to pat them,” Lewis said to The Guardian.
“We try to scare them into not being naive and thinking they’re cute and cuddly by showing them the photos [of injuries caused by kangaroos], what can happen, and not to give them any food,” he added.
Though Piper admits it’s impossible to keep tourists from visiting the area, he wants the state’s national parks department and health department, which owns the hospital grounds, to install more warning signs reminding people to not feed the wild animals, The Guardian reported.