Kangaroos Develop A Taste For Nobel Grapes

These Hunter Valley kangaroos have plenty of grass to feed on, so they can leave the grape vines alone. Around Canberra, however, dry conditions have turned roos into wine lovers. Davesayit/Shutterstock

Dr Jenny Gordon is a respected Australian economist. Professor Brian Schmidt is vice chancellor of the Australian National University. Together this power couple run a winery outside Canberra. While doing this, Schmidt found time to collect a Nobel Prize for demonstrating that the rate of the Universe's expansion is accelerating, establishing the need for dark energy to explain the phenomenon and overturning the laws of physics. The local kangaroos, however, appear to have no respect for scientific achievement and have eaten most of their grapes.

Normally, grass forms kangaroos' primary food source, but a dry winter and spring left local roos with nothing to eat last October, so some moved in on the one sign of green in their area – the fresh buds and fruit of the irrigated Maipenrai Vineyard where Gordon and Schmidt have their winery. At the recent harvest, the couple collected just 50 kilograms (110 pounds) where they would normally expect a hundred times that.

Losing one year's crop is bad enough – the couple estimate the hungry macropods consumed $80,000 worth of grapes – but Schmidt told the ABC: "Now that they have figured it out, it would not surprise me if it happened in the future."

Other winegrowers in the region are also reporting kangaroos that have developed a sudden fondness for grapes.

"What? How is any of this my fault?" Ella Deep-Loumanis/Shutterstock

You might expect Schmidt and Gordon to be hopping mad about this, but they're actually rather understanding, with Gordon saying the native species “are an important part of the ecosystem.” The pair are planning to put in $15,000-20,000 worth of additional fencing rather than get the pesky beasts shot.

Being leading experts on the causes of poverty and the universe's evolution may not be much help in this situation, but perhaps Gordon and Schmidt have made a breakthrough in a much-understudied area. Marsupial nutrition is a field so obscure that until recently zookeepers have often had to fall back on guesswork when deciding what they should be feeding their antipodean charges.

Perhaps some bright-eyed PhD student at Schmidt's university can make a name for themselves getting kangaroos to taste-test wine grapes to determine what they like best. Schmidt and Gordon grow pinot noir (celebrated in Schmidt's Twitter handle @Cosmicpinot), but Schmidt told IFLScience: “As far as I know, kangaroos generally do not eat grape shoots – but once they discover them, they are happy to eat, and I don't think they are very picky on variety.”

Like winegrowers everywhere, Schmidt and Gordon have to fend off birds (which they do with netting), however Schmidt told IFLScience that none of the other Australian marsupials have so far shown an enthusiasm for their grapes, nor for other parts of the vines.

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