Most Southlanders might think they are a long way away from the natural habitat of a wallaby, but Environment Southland is urging the public to keep an eye out for the animals as reported sightings of them continue to get closer and closer to the region. Wallabies were introduced into South Canterbury in 1874 and have since made their way further south into Otago, with the Otago Regional Council running a wallaby prevention website as well as including the animal in its Otago Pest Plan.
And while there has only ever been one confirmed sighting and capture of a wallaby in Southland, Environment Southland Biosecurity Team Leader Dave Burgess said it was important for residents in the region to keep an eye out as it was difficult to track them fully and be aware if they had established a presence in the province. Mr Burgess said a wallaby was spotted and captured in Invercargill
in 2016, although there had been numerous finds of dead wallabies in the region.
“We’ve had several dead ones found on roadsides where we just believe people have been hunting in South Canterbury, had some on the back of their truck and then they’ve either fallen off the truck or been thrown off the truck on the side of the roads.”
He said the environmental impacts to the region would be significant if wallabies were to be found living in Southland.
“They have a huge impact on both the environment and economics. So for the environment they do a lot of damage by eating a lot of native vegetation and also grassland. They particularly eat a lot of the understory out in the bush and the scrub and the native tussocks.
“In terms of farmers’ pasture they obviously munch on a lot of that as well, similar to a rabbit. If you’ve got them in big numbers they’ll do a lot of damage. In small numbers probably not so much of an issue but they’re just like any other pest if you have small numbers sooner or later you’re going to have big numbers and big problems.”
Mr Burgess said Environment Southland was “quietly concerned” about their spread across the Otago region, as well as the likelihood of people helping them into the region by capturing them and keeping them as pets and then allowing them to get loose.
A recent Facebook page by the council urged the public to immediately report any sightings of a wallaby to council, a plea that Mr Burgess echoed. He said many people might see a wallaby and not think anything of it, but they needed to be aware of the issues they could bring into the region.
People should also be aware that wallabies were declared an “exclusion pest” by the council.
“It might be that a wallaby might be surviving in an area of Northern Southland, for example, quite happily for several months before it is detected or before somebody realises that they should report it. One wallaby on its own is probably not an issue but if there were two wallabies [and] they were male and female then it leads to a whole different picture.”
People can report wallaby sightings by calling 0800 76 88 45.
This article was originally written for The Advocate. You can read the published version here