Kangaroo Island’s extraordinary wildlife is undoubtedly why Australia’s third-largest island is on the bucket list of so many people.
Our tours focus on wildlife in the wild – because nothing compares to seeing wildlife in their natural habitat, undisturbed and behaving the way they want to.
Kangaroo Island is home to an enormous range of land mammals & marsupials, birds, reptiles & amphibians, marine mammals and fish & marine invertebrates – so join Exceptional Kangaroo Island for the best Kangaroo Island wildlife tour.
Find out which species made our list of the top 9 Kangaroo Island wildlife encounters, and why.
9. Wedge-tailed Eagle
No matter where you are on Kangaroo Island, take a moment to cast your eyes into the skies above, and you’ll likely spot a couple of black silhouettes soaring graciously in the thermals. You can check with your Exceptional Kangaroo Island guide, but in most cases, these will be a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles (Aquila audax).
You can be forgiven for underestimating their size when viewing from such a distance. With a wingspan of up to 2.3m (7.5ft), the Wedge-tailed Eagle is Australia’s largest bird of prey. The name comes from the distinctive shape of the tail that tapers to a central point, giving it an unmistakable flight silhouette.
They also have incredible eyesight, seeing up to eight times the detail that a human eye can. Even more impressively, they have the fantastic ability to elongate their eyeballs, effectively turning their eye into a zoom lens to pinpoint their prey. The range of prey that “Wedgies” (as they are known locally) will take includes: wallabies, possums, birds, goannas and snakes. While active hunters, they also take advantage of cleaning up our road kill. From the nervous behaviour of Tammar Wallabies when the shadow of an eagle passes overhead, they are a constant threat to smaller mammals.
8. Long-nosed Fur Seal*
Previously known as the New Zealand Fur Seal, the Long-nosed Fur Seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) is a highlight for our guests travelling into Flinders Chase National Park. As you would expect, given their former name, these Fur Seals are also found in New Zealand.
Long-nosed Fur Seals live in several locations around the island, with the most accessible large colony at Admiral’s Arch, Cape du Couedic.
But why the asterisk on the heading above? These aren’t the only Fur Seals we come across on Kangaroo Island. We also have the Australian Fur Seal (Arctocephalus pusillus) at Admiral’s Arch. Look closely, and you might even spot lighter-coloured Australian Sea-lions (Neophoca cinerea) there too.
There are subtle differences between the Fur Seal species, explained on the signage at Admiral’s Arch. But ask your Exceptional Kangaroo Island guide and they will be able to help you pick the different species.
7. Rosenberg’s Goanna
Classified as rare on the Australian mainland, Rosenberg’s Goanna (Varanus rosenbergi) is still relatively common on Kangaroo Island. However, they are still declining, and not-for-profit conservation organisations Pelican Lagoon Wildlife and Research Centre and Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife are doing some excellent monitoring work.
These impressive reptiles are typically encountered in the warmer months (October – April) as they bask in the warm sunlight.
The reproductive process of the Rosenberg’s Goanna is fascinating. After pairing up and mating in a short mid-summer season, they dig into a termite mound and lay their eggs. The termites repairing the damage to their mound create a perfect incubation chamber. It has high humidity and a temperature of around 37℃ (99℉). Once the young goannas hatch, they have an abundance of food (termites) which helps them grow to a stage where they can dig themselves out and begin their life in the bush.
We see these termite mounds across Kangaroo Island and occasionally notice evidence of Rosenberg’s Goanna diggings – so ask your guide to point a termite mound out for you!
Any of our Kangaroo Island Wildlife Tours will allow you to see these reptiles; however, they are opportunistic sightings based on weather and season.
6. Glossy Black-Cockatoo
The story of the Glossy Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami halmaturinus) is uplifting. The birds found here are a Kangaroo Island sub-species that differ from the Glossy Black-Cockatoos found in eastern Australia.
In the 1990s, population counts suggested that only 110 individuals remained on Kangaroo Island, and the species was officially listed as critically-endangered. The genuine risk of extinction led to some excellent work identifying the need for more food trees and nest hollows and, importantly, protecting identified nest hollows from egg predators. A significant breakthrough was learning that marauding brush-tailed possums ate one of every two eggs. A low-tech response was wrapping corrugated steel around the base of the nest trees, which foiled the possum’s sharp claws and teeth.
A combined public and private effort to undertake this vital conservation work resulted in a population census reporting over 450 individuals now thriving on Kangaroo Island.
We are privileged to share a private land restoration property (Cygnet Park Sanctuary) with our guests. Here, we frequently observe these beautiful birds quietly feeding in She-Oak trees (Allocasuarina verticillata) or nesting in their hollows high up in gums (Eucalyptus cladocalyx, E. camaldulensis and E. leucoxylon) that line the Cygnet River. Thanks to the team from Bio·R, a South Australian not-for-profit conservation organisation who have planted thousands of Allocasuarina specifically to provide food for these endangered species.
Encounters with Glossy Black-Cockatoos are opportunistic, but for your best chance of a sighting, book our Conservation Connection or Wild About Birds private tours. Otherwise, please speak to your guide about opportunities while touring with us.
5. Short-beaked Echidna
One of Australia’s most intriguing creatures, the Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus multiaculeatus), is an egg-laying mammal. Yes, you read that correctly – the Platypus does not hold exclusive rights to this bizarre mammalian reproductive method. The Short-beaked Echidna, Long-beaked Echidna (found in New Guinea) and the Platypus are the only three ‘Monotremes’ found worldwide. This means these species lay eggs, and once the young hatch, they suckle milk.
Short-beaked Echidnas are solitary animals for much of their life; however, during mating season, you may encounter an echidna ‘train’, where multiple males will follow a female for days or weeks. The last remaining male doggedly pursuing the female finally gets to mate with the female.
As “generalists”, Short-beaked Echidnas are encountered right across Kangaroo Island. Sightings are opportunistic, and encounters rely on luck and sharp eyes looking out for a spiny ball ambling through the countryside. During the cooler months (May – September), they will go into a kind of hibernation where their heartbeat slows to as low as one beat per minute, conserving energy until the springtime.
One option for private tours is to schedule a one-on-one session over lunch with Dr Peggy Rismiller, who is the world expert on the Echidna. She has a vast knowledge of other species and a global perspective on conservation and ecology.
Join any of our tours for a chance to see these species with your own eyes – but remember, it is purely opportunistic. For your best option, book a more extended stay (our three-day Kangaroo Island Investigator tour) which gives three days to find one!
4. Australian Sea-lion
Classified as endangered, Kangaroo Island is still one of the major strongholds for the Australian Sea-lion (Neophoca cinerea). Their population was decimated by hunting by American and European sealers in the late 1700s and 1800s. Despite being protected, these creatures are yet to recover to their former numbers and are one of the world’s rarer seals.
Other than opportunistic sightings in the calm waters of Kingscote or hauled out with the fur-seals at Cape du Couedic, the standout experience is at Seal Bay Conservation Park. This protected beach is home to more than 900 Australian Sea-lions.
The visitor centre at Seal Bay offers scheduled small group tours onto the beach with a guide or self-guided tours on the boardwalk.
Our guides at Exceptional Kangaroo Island have appropriate accreditations to guide private groups onto the main beach. This access gets you close to these magnificent mammals, although keeping a safe and respectful distance is vital for our wildlife encounters.
3. Tammar Wallaby
Without knowing where and when to look, you could easily leave Kangaroo Island without seeing these gorgeous little marsupials.
Closely related to the larger kangaroos, Tammar Wallabies (Macropus eugenii) are a small macropod species that spends most of the day in thick vegetation, hiding from their main predator, the Wedge-tailed Eagle. At night, they venture out into open grasslands to feed – and congregate in surprising numbers.
This wallaby is a fascinating creature. If there were a Guinness Book of Records category for the world’s longest “embryonic diapause”, they would win it! They suspend their pregnancy until conditions best favour the survival of their young. The time between mating and birth is around ten months, and the process, influenced by lactation and the changing length of day, is only starting to be understood.
The timing goes something like this: young are born in summer, and mating takes place straight after birth. The tiny joey crawls into the pouch and starts secondary development in the warmth and darkness of the mother’s permanent nursery pocket. Meanwhile, next year’s young is a simple sphere of fewer than 100 cells.
The developing joey remains in the pouch nursing and growing until Spring – with little heads starting to protrude from pouches from August. Gradually more of the joey can be seen, and they begin to graze as the mother bends down to eat. Eventually, they emerge and have a period popping in and out, but still nursing, and finally become independent. The arrival of the southern Summer solstice in December is the trigger to reactivate the dormant embryo, which is born 25-28 days later, and the process starts all over.
They also have world-leading kidneys as they can survive salt water, and their milk contains a peptide antibiotic 100 times more potent than penicillin!
Although you can find Tammar Wallabies across Kangaroo Island, they are hard to see in daylight. Luckily, we know a couple of hotspots for the best sightings. Join our Island Life, two-day Kangaroo Island In Style or three-day Kangaroo Island Investigator to see them.
Perhaps unlucky to miss out on the number one spot on our list of Kangaroo Island wildlife encounters, the Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is a significant reason to visit Kangaroo Island.
In addition to holding pole position on the cute animal Grand Prix, koalas are best known for their sleeping habits (up to 22 hours per day), and their consumption of Eucalyptus leaves. They can eat up to 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of leaves daily and often waste more by dropping them to the ground. These leaves are where koalas get most of their water – they rarely drink from open water sources. The name comes from the Gadigal people, the original inhabitants of the Sydney area, based on their word “gula”, meaning “no water”.
Surprising to many, the koala isn’t native to Kangaroo Island – in the 1920s, over forty koalas (“forty plus pouched young”) were brought to Rocky River in Flinders Chase National Park as a deliberate conservation measure. Recent research using digitised early newspapers has revealed that the number of individuals introduced exceeded two hundred.
Koalas quickly made themselves at home here – many of our Eucalyptus species, having evolved without koalas, had little in the way of natural defences. Many trees on the mainland “defend themselves” against the constant browse pressure through the presence of unpalatable and even toxic leaf compounds. By the 1950s, koalas had expanded, and defoliation of large areas of Manna gums was apparent.
By the 1980s, the area and range of trees impacted by koalas had expanded, and those responsible for wildlife management considered a suite of management responses. Ultimately, surgical sterilisation was undertaken, which reduced the extremely high koala density.
Meanwhile, Tasmanian Blue Gums were planted across a large swathe of former farmland as a future cellulose fibre source, and for koalas, these trees are a real treat – like ice cream to a three-year-old! Although the control through sterilisation was effective in targetted areas, in the blue gums, koalas flourished.
The impact of the Black Summer bushfires on our community, economy, farm animals, and wildlife was well documented. Koalas are very vulnerable to wildfire – indeed, it is a significant natural control measure, and many were destroyed.
The humane impact of this in terms of minimising the suffering of individuals was well addressed – the support globally for caring for our wildlife and community was extraordinary. The silver lining to this challenging time was that this was a once-in-a-generation natural restart with millions of new trees that are future food for koalas and many other species.
There are many koala ‘hotspots’ on the island, and our guides have some fabulous locations where we sometimes view up to ten individuals as we wander through a valley containing the right food trees.
1. Kangaroo Island Kangaroo
The Kangaroo Island Kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus fuliginosus) is the expected and most popular Kangaroo Island wildlife encounter! With a name like Kangaroo Island, you’d hope we have a Kangaroo or two – and you’d be correct. There are estimated to be more than 65,000 individuals found across the island.
The Kangaroo Island Kangaroo is a sub-species of the Western Grey Kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus) found on mainland Australia. Due to more than 14,000 years of separation from the mainland, this species has evolved slightly differently to suit local conditions. The more obvious points of difference are:
- Shorter and stockier than the mainland Western Grey to which they are related;
- Chocolate brown with black “points” (muzzle, ears, tail, feet and paws) rather than grey-brown;
- Shorter face and shorter ears – the ears being effective “radiators” for shedding heat in hot areas and, therefore, no advantage in our cooler maritime climate.
Less obvious is that females do not appear to have the environmentally induced embryonic diapause, where embryo development in utero is halted in drought conditions and only restarted by the arrival of rain and new grass. Again this may be an adaptation to local conditions as our rainfall is very reliable. As for the males, some of these are big boys – in fact, the heaviest Kangaroo Island Kangaroo ever recorded weighed in at 89 kg – a similar weight to the heaviest red kangaroos from the Outback.
Although this species is found across Kangaroo Island, one-third of the island is heavily vegetated. Hence, the best viewing opportunities are in the more open landscapes of cleared grasslands on the north and east coasts.
So that wraps up our list of Top 9 Kangaroo Island Wildlife Encounters. We find plenty of other species here, so head to our Kangaroo Island Wildlife page for more information. Remember, for your best chance of seeing these species, book an Exceptional Kangaroo Island wildlife tour.