Waging war on wallabies

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Wallaby sightings and kills are on the increase in the Waitaki district and other areas of Otago, which has prompted the Otago Regional Council to consider taking tougher action.

The wallaby is listed as an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act 1993 and are identified as a pest in the Otago Regional Council’s Pest Management Plan.

Wallabies, who easily adapt to different habitats and can thrive in various environments from forests to open country, have the potential to cause damage if a significant population becomes established in Otago.

The animal occupies more than 300,000ha of land in South Canterbury, which is part of Environment Canterbury’s (ECan) “wallaby containment zone”, with the Waitaki River being its southern border.

However, sightings south of the Waitaki River have increased eightfold in two years and wallabies have been killed as part of ECan search and destroy operations in a 6km area around Aviemore Dam.

The ORC believes this is the primary pathway wallabies are taking when migrating to the Waitaki district.

Ecan has recently installed fences in an attempt to stem the flow.

Other areas where wallabies have been spotted include Naseby and Herbert Forest, while the carcass of a lone wallaby, believed to have been killed by a 1080 poison drop, was seen at Trotters Gorge near Palmerston.

A wallaby was struck and killed by a vehicle on State Highway 1 at Evansdale, 20km north of Dunedin. The ORC believes the sightings of lone wallabies are a result of illegal releases.

The objective of the council’s Regional Pest Management Strategy is to prevent the wallaby becoming established in Otago, which it aims to achieve by encouraging landowners to kill the animals and report their presence to the council.

A report to be presented at today’s ORC meeting recommends that the ORC draw up a plan that includes a response plan, a control-and-surveillance strategy and a communication plans, and considers funding implications.

Wallabies were introduced into the Hunter Hills area near Waimate in 1874 to provide animals for recreational hunting.

It is thought only three to five breeding pairs were introduced, however the population exploded since they were released.

According to the ORC, between 1916 and 1975, the population spread at a rate of 46sq km a year.

By Daniel Birchfield

PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD – Wallabies are no longer content calling Waimate and South Canterbury home, with numerous sightings and wallaby killings having taken place in Waitaki recently.