The fairytale love story of a kangaroo apparently mourning the loss of its recently departed mate, captured by a Queensland photographer, is just that, a fairytale, a wildlife expert says.
Hervey Bay's Evan Switzer captured the images of a male kangaroo apparently cradling the head of a dead female as a joey looks on but Australian Museum mammalogist Mark Eldridge said they have been "fundamentally misinterpreted".
'Mourning' kangaroo photo raises questions
Evan Switzer's photos of a male kangaroo 'grieving' his dead mate have gone viral, but an Australia Museum research scientist says the kangaroo was trying to mate.
Dr Eldridge said Mr Switzer captured the male in a state of sexual arousal, not mourning her loss, as the photographer perceived him to be.
"The kangaroo is not, unfortunately, propp[ing] up her head so she could see her joey before she died," he said.
"This is a male trying to get a female to stand up so he can mate with her."
Mr Switzer came across the three kangaroos while walking his dogs in bushland at River Heads, south of Hervey Bay, on Monday afternoon.
He said the male repeatedly attempted to stand his mate up, only to have her fall to the ground, a scene he described as "truly amazing" and which interpreted as the buck mourning the dead female.
But, while the photographs captured worldwide attention for the male's perceived tenderness, Dr Eldridge said it was not the true-love story it appears to be.
He said the image of the male apparently cradling the head of the dead female actually shows he is in a state of sexual arousal.
"The male is clearly highly stressed and agitated, his forearms are very wet from him licking himself to cool down," he said.
"He is also sexually aroused, the evidence is here sticking out from behind the scrotum (yes, in marsupials the penis is located behind the scrotum).
"Eastern grey kangaroos can breed throughout the year but mating mainly occurs in spring and early summer.
"The younger individual is probably the female last pouch young who may be still suckling."
Mr Switzer said the buck was clearly distressed, which he took to mean he was in mourning.
"I noticed the male standing over the female tying to pick her up," Mr Switzer said.
"She did fall out of his arms, he would try and stand her up and she slipped through and hit the ground.
"He kept on going back to try and lift her up, making this distressed sort of noise."