for National Geographic News
"Roo mauling!" the headlines screamed after a 13-year-old boy was attacked by a kangaroo as the boy looked for a lost golf ball on a green in Grafton, Australia.
Urban myth? Not this time.
The boy suffered facial wounds and cuts to his abdomen, back, and legs. The 5-foot-tall (1.5-meter-tall) kangaroo grabbed the boy as he was searching bushes on a New South Wales golf course in 1996.
Australia's Supreme Court eventually ordered the Grafton District Golf Club to compensate the boy not only for his injuries but also for the emotional damage he suffered when schoolmates taunted him with the nickname "Skippy" (a play on the hopping gait of kangaroos) after the incident.
The court found that the club was negligent, because it had known its kangaroo population was aggressive but had not done enough to warn visitors.
The case did much to make Australians think about how they approach wildlife, says Guy Ballard, a doctoral candidate at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales.
"In many communities the line is blurred between people's territory and kangaroo areas," Ballard said.
"The people live on the edge of rural land, and the kangaroos want to take advantage of natural resources like green grass and water ," he said. "[P]eople need to give animals their space. But that's hard if you come around the corner of your house and there's one right in front of you."
Three years ago Ballard began researching how people react to wild horses, fruit bats, and, of course, kangaroos.
In some of the northern New South Wales towns he surveyed, Ballard found that 100 percent of people saw kangaroos every day. Of those surveyed, three-fourths had kangaroos in their backyards. Ballard documented 15 reports of contact where kangaroos had either growled at people or chased them away.
"In some cases it was people coming between a mother and her children, and so she reacted aggressively," Ballard said.