Are wallabies really a threat to Otago?
Once we only thought about wallabies when the visiting Australian rugby team had a crack at the All Blacks, or when we drove past the yellow shed on the way to Waimate or further north.
To gain a greater understanding of the wallaby issue, I visited a pest contractor as he completed his shooting programme on a Hakataramea property.
This property was spending $30,000 to $50,000 per year on pest eradication and the contractor was still shooting about 200 wallabies per night.
A startling reminder of the scale of the problem was revealed as I talked to a group of concerned South Canterbury farmers last year.
In an effort to control wallabies in their region, a large station owner had shot more than 10,000 in the past three years, while another informed me they were on a major eradication drive and, with thermal-imaging technology when night shooting, he was shooting a wallaby every two to three minutes.
Quite simply, wallabies are not only a threat to our agricultural production, they will continue to decimate our native biodiversity and our conservation estate unless strong action is taken.
The Waitaki River is no longer a barrier to protect Otago — perhaps it never really was.
Over the past couple of months, sightings have been reported to the Otago Regional Council at Trotters Gorge, Dip Creek, Hilderthorpe, Richmond and Ngapara.
Are they real?
The Richmond wallaby was shot.
So, what’s being done?
A national wallaby eradication programme has been formulated with the initial aim, in the Environment Canterbury and Otago Regional Council, to ensure wallabies are contained within designated containment areas and their impacts and numbers reduced.
Outlier populations of wallabies are to be identified and eliminated.
At this stage, Otago is part of the outlier area and considerable work is under way to ensure we deliver the programme’s aim.
Ground-based surveillance and control activities are being carried out in key management units — North Otago, Macraes, Maniototo, Hawkdun, Hawea and Dunstan.
Contractors are using hunters with specially-trained dogs and are beginning to use drones with thermal-imaging capacity. Aerial contractors are also being used for thermal surveillance and getting the ground crews to remote locations.
Until the end of November 2021, almost 11,000ha had been covered and crews have responded to sightings and signs throughout our region.
The answer to the question, ‘‘Are wallabies really a threat to Otago?’’: If we don’t work hard now on our identify and eliminate strategy, wallabies have the potential to spread rapidly and cause havoc to our environment.
Remember a female can have one on her back, one in the pouch and one incubating.
We need everyone to be vigilant and report any sightings to the ORC to ensure success.
Thanks in advance for your help.
- Kevin Malcolm is the Otago regional councillor for the Moeraki constituency and chairman of the ORC’s Wallaby Management Regional Coordination Group