New joint tech project to locate 'hidden' wallabies

New thermal detection technology is being used to help track down Bennett's wallabies, one of the most problematic introduced pests in South Canterbury.

Environment Canterbury, Otago Regional Council and local farmers are working with Landcare Research on a three-year trial to determine the effectiveness of thermal imaging technology to locate wallabies from planes and helicopters.

Environment Canterbury biosecurity team leader Brent Glentworth said wallabies were notoriously difficult to locate in very low numbers and were often hidden under scrub and bush cover.

Bennett's wallaby“It really is hard and time-consuming to detect them using ‘man and dog’ – they are largely solitary nocturnal animals, extremely fast and can hide very easily in tussock and scrub,” he said.

Locating wallabies can be especially problematic in areas where they have spread out of the Environment Canterbury containment area or have been released or escaped from being kept - often illegally - as a pet.

In New Zealand, it is an offence for people to keep, capture or release wallabies without a permit from the Ministry for Primary Industries and there are steep fines or conviction.

Brent said the trial will involve capturing small groups of wallabies from different habitat areas and fitting them with GPS trackers. This will then allow field staff to assess the effectiveness of the thermal imaging technology when it is used to locate the GPS-tagged pests in remote environments.

“If the imaging works well and we’re picking up most of the tagged wallabies it will mean it’s worth moving forward with the technology. We’re really hopeful it will make it much easier to pinpoint and destroy these isolated wallabies from the air,” Brent said.

Bennett’s Wallabies

Bennett’s wallabies were introduced from Tasmania into the Hunters Hills near Waimate in 1874 to provide animals for recreational hunting. Their population boomed and they quickly became a pest that needed ongoing management and control.

Wallabies can cause devastation to forestry plantings, native bush regeneration and other biodiversity, as well as impact on production farming when they consume valuable pasture and damage fencing.

Because they can breed from the young age of two years, they can quickly re-populate if not effectively controlled.

A Ministry for Primary Industries report released last year predicted not controlling wallabies in the South Island could cost the economy $67 million within 10 years.

Environment Canterbury has a 900,000 hectare containment area for the pest, but wallaby populations are now established in Mount Cook, and there have been sightings as far afield as Ranfurly and Naseby.

Find more information on animal pests here.