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Taking over . . . Bennett's wallaby has spread widely throughout the South Island since it was introduced in the late 1800s. PHOTO: ALLIED PRESS FILES

By Ines Stager

According to the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, wallabies were introduced to this country between 1867 and 1870 sport and for the value of their skins

Bennett’s wallaby, or red-neck wallaby, the marsupial species present in the South Island, was liberated about 1874 on Te Waimate Station.

From the original one buck and two does, they multiplied rapidly and by 1959, three years after they were declared a noxious animal under the Noxious Animals Act, they occupied 1 million acres (404,685 ha).

The wallaby “containment area” is now about 900,000ha and includes the Two Thumb, Albury and Kirkliston Range, Grampian Mountains, the Hunter Hills and Kakahu Bush.

Wallabies have spread well beyond this “containment area”.

They have even been seen on the outskirts of Geraldine, and have started to invade Te Manahuna Aoraki project area in the Mackenzie where the Department of Conservation (Doc) is undertaking predator control to secure survival of kaki, robust grasshopper and other endemic species.

Some wallabies have been recorded in Marlborough, Southland and the West Coast.

This year the 30th annual wallaby hunting competition took place just a week before the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. According to the organisers, more than 4000 wallabies were shot during the competition.

Wallabies like to hide in the forest or bush edges during the day and then venture on to pasture at night. They devour significant amounts of pasture and native bush and forest.

Just as possums decimate the bush from the canopy down, the wallabies eat young seedlings, the future trees of the forest, which will lead ultimately to forest ecosystem collapse. Apparently, three Bennett’s wallabies can eat the equivalent grass of one 50kg sheep.

Nationwide, the economic loss as a result of wallaby grazing/stripping pastures amounts to $28million per year. If left uncontrolled, it is estimated that the loss within a decade could reach $84million a year. This figure does not include the loss of native ecosystems.

In a joint effort, the Ministry of Primary Industries, Doc, Environment Canterbury, and the Waikato Regional Council have developed a national strategy to eradicate wallabies.

Funding of $27million towards the control of wallaby populations in the Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Canterbury and Otago has just been announced in the latest Budget. This is a very welcome decision and allows this urgent action to go ahead and requires co-operation between land managers, authorities and the respective NGOs.

  • Ines Stager is a landscape architect based in Geraldine, a board member of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society and a committee member of the local branch.