This Animal Made HistoryJuly 10, 2014

On July 14, 1770, Sir Joseph Banks explored the flora and fauna near the Endeavour River and discovered something. James Cook, who led the British expedition to this part of the Pacific Ocean, was aboard the HMS Endeavour when it struck the Great Barrier Reef. The ship nearly sank, prompting the navigator and his crew to seek land. They found Botany Bay, and during the next two months, repaired the damaged vessel. This allowed Banks, renowned botanist during his time, ample time to explore the region. He spotted a kangaroo, an animal with large hind legs, long tail, and small head. It was only endemic in Australia. This discovery became significant, as this was followed with the British kingdom establishing a colony in the island continent many years later. It was Cook's first voyage, which would make him rich and famous. The kangaroo would be associated with Great Britain, but a startling discovery was made centuries later. A 16th-century Portuguese manuscript was found, which showed an illustration of a kangaroo. It brought back an unresolved issue on the European exploration of Australia. The Dutch ship, Duyfken, led by Willem Janszoon, made the first documented European landing in 1606. There was a theory of Portuguese discovery decades earlier, but there was no definitive evidence. Until the manuscript came to light. "A kangaroo or a wallaby in a manuscript dated this early is proof that the artist of this manuscript had either been in Australia or even more interestingly, that traveller's reports and drawings of the interesting animals found in this new world were already available in Portugal,'' researcher Laura Light said. This doesn't mean that there would be a thorough review of the records, as most of it were destroyed during the Great Lisbon Earthquake. It was also known that Portugal was extremely secretive about her trade routes back then, thus explaining why their presence there wasn't widely known. Some have doubts. ''The likeness of the animal to a kangaroo or wallaby is clear enough, but then it could be another animal in south-east Asia, like any number of deer species some of which stand on their hind legs to feed off high branches,'' National Library of Australia curator of maps Martin Woods said. Kangaroo, a recognisable symbol of Australia, is featured in sports teams names and mascots. These animals are also well represented in films and television. (Ian Barry's "Joey", released in 1997, is about a joey, a term for a young kangaroo.) One mustn't forget the logo of Qantas, Australia's national airline. These warm-blooded mammals are divided into red and grey species, the red thriving in the desert regions and the grey in grassy areas. They are famous for their hind legs, which enable them to hop from place to place. These legs also keep predators at the distance, as it make them strong kickers. One genus of this mammal, the tree kangaroo, is found in Papua New Guinea, but apart from it, kangaroos are truly Oz.

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