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Mobs of kangaroos take to streets of Australia's capital over food shortage

Mobs of kangaroos have been raiding patches of grass in the Australian capital Canberra, driven to the city's sports fields, back yards and roadsides by food scarcity.

Canberra residents have taken to social media with images of the jumping marsupials exploring outside their usual habitats. But beyond the cute photo opportunities, the hungry kangaroos are at risk of dying on the roads as their feeding times coincide with rush hour.

Canberra has more than 30 nature reserves, with most hosting hundreds of Eastern Grey Kangaroos, and it is not unusual to see them in the reserves or in roads or yards nearby, Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Parks and Conservation Service Director Daniel Iglesias told CNN.

But he said this winter the animals were far more visible.

"Canberra is experiencing a perfect storm of hardship for its kangaroos. New records have been set in Canberra for very cold, frosty nights this winter. This, coupled with very dry conditions with very little rain at all in June and July, means there is very little food for kangaroos, " Iglesias said, via email.

"Sports ovals, suburban yards, schoolyards and roadsides are the few places offering any green grass at all in Canberra at the moment and they act as magnets for kangaroos," he said.

Driving in areas with large populations of kangaroos is ill-advised during the animals' dawn and dusk feeding times as they can jump in front of moving vehicles without warning. Many larger cars in country areas have "roo bars" on the front of the vehicle, to act as a breaker for those in the car, should a collision with a rogue kangaroo take place.

Kangaroos are social animals and live in large groups known as "mobs," often headed by a dominant male.

"Get to know where your local mob hangs out and avoid them, or slow down, especially during peak movement periods of dusk and dawn," Iglesias said. "People should also keep their dog on a lead as it can be very stressful for kangaroos to be chased by dogs and the dogs also put themselves at risk of being harmed."

On its website, the ACT government says Canberra's Eastern Grey Kangaroo population means the city qualifies as Australia "Kangaroo capital."

The ACT's Department of Environment says numbers have increased to the extent that some nature reserves have some of the highest densities of kangaroos per square kilometer in Australia -- up to almost 700 per square kilometer.

Kangaroos are considered a pest in most areas of Australia and culling is legal.

The ACT government carries out an annual cull, which it says is aimed at lessening the animals' impact on ecosystems and threats to some local flora and fauna species.This year's cull finished July 27. Iglesias said 3,253 kangaroos had been removed from seven of Canberra's reserves but that there were still "tens of thousands" in the city.

Human residents still dominate in the capital, which has a population of around 400,000, but across Australia there are double the number of kangaroos to humans.

According to a 2016 report, there are more than 44 million kangaroos in the country. As of the 2016 Census, Australia has a human population of 24 million.

Currently in Canberra, kangaroos are looking for food at the same times as residents are traveling between their homes and workplaces.

"The short winter days means people are commuting to work at dawn and home at dusk, bringing motorists and kangaroos together in a potentially deadly way for kangaroos," Iglesias said. "Wildlife rangers are reporting record numbers of roadkill with Canberra on target to record its highest ever tally of 'roos reported killed by collisions with cars."

Motorists who hit kangaroos should not attempt to move them as they could put themselves in danger, he said, noting that residents needed to be cautious around the animals as they became a more familiar sight.

"Kangaroos will get used to having people around and their drive to find food will overwhelm their cautious nature. People should never approach a 'roo to pat or feed it -- it will inevitably mistake your well meaning advances and you risk it striking out in self-defense."

by CNN's Tara Mulholland contributed to this report.

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