Construction of a 48km wallaby exclusion fence is the latest development in South Canterbury’s war on wallabies.
Wallabies are not a new problem. But they are a national pest problem that needs a joint effort to solve. We work alongside our partners in the Tipu Mātoro National Wallaby Eradication Programme. Together we have a vision for a wallaby-free Aotearoa.
Read on to find out more about this pest animal and what we and our programme partners are doing to control wallaby and stop their spread.
Why are they a pest?
Scientific name: Macropus rufogriseus rufogriseus
Common name: Bennett’s wallaby or red-necked wallaby
Bennett’s wallabies were introduced to South Canterbury from Australia in 1874 and by the 1940s had become a significant pest.
They have no natural predators in Aotearoa and have adapted well. They currently occupy around 1.5 million hectares of land in the South Island, mostly in South Canterbury.
They are very mobile and in the last 15 years, their numbers have been increasing exponentially, spreading further afield from Canterbury’s designated 900,000-hectare wallaby containment area.
The containment area is bordered by three river systems - Rangitata in the north, Waitaki in the south and Tekapo in the west.
Bennett's wallaby containment area
The damage wallabies can do
Wallabies can significantly impact our economy and local biodiversity values by:
- destroying productive farmland by competing with livestock for pasture and damaging crops and fences
- impacting the profitability of commercial forestry by eating young trees
- reducing biodiversity in our iconic landscapes
- stopping native bush regeneration which impacts native wildlife habitat and food sources.
This damage can lead to negative social and cultural impacts, including:
- For tangata whenua, cultural health, wellbeing, and identity are strongly linked to the physical environment and any impacts are considered holistically together with the impacts on forest health and taonga species.
- Reduced farming income and employment can have far-reaching impacts on rural populations, their social and community infrastructure such as schools, and on farmer resilience to the impacts of other pest incursions or events.
Wallabies are classified as an unwanted organism under sections 52 and 53 of the Biosecurity Act 1993. That means they can’t be held as a pet, bred, sold, moved (transported), released or exhibited without a permit. There are fines of up to $100,000 and/or five years imprisonment for those who do.
How you can help – report signs and sightings
This is where we need your help - your reports are critical to stopping their spread.
If you see a wallaby outside of Canterbury’s containment area, dead or alive, please report it. If you see signs of wallaby, including footprints or scat (poo), you can report those too. If possible, please take a photo to help us verify the animal and sign.
Reporting signs and sightings means we can investigate the wider area for wallabies and implement control measures if needed.
What to look for
Wallabies look like a small kangaroo. They grow up to 80cm tall, which is approximately the height of an average dining table, and weigh between 15kg and 25kg. Their body colour is grey-brown with reddish-brown shoulders and neck, with black tipped hind feet and tail.
They leave distinctive tracks, it is unusual for fully formed prints of the whole feet to be left at a site. Creek crossings, bare ground tracks or clay slips are the best places to look. Sometimes a tail drag mark can be seen on very soft ground or in snow.
Their scat (poo) is a good indication if wallaby have been in an area for some time. It is often pelleted and found in clumps, normally coarse in texture with vegetation fibres visible.
The Bennett’s wallaby is the largest of the five species of wallabies present in Aotearoa, and the only species found in the South Island. In the North Island the smaller dama wallaby is present around Rotorua. The remaining species are on Kawau Island in the Hauraki Gulf.
- Bennett’s wallaby prefer the edges of dense scrub, pine plantations, native bush and heavy snow tussock where they take refuge during the day and then feed in open areas of grassland along the margins at night.
- They can be found anywhere below 2000m above sea level.
Habits and diet
- They are generally a nocturnal, semi-solitary animal. They are alert during the day and hard to approach unaware.
- They have a high dietary overlap with stock so are in direct competition for food resources. Approximately three wallabies consume as much as an average ewe (one stock unit) each night.
- They feed on understorey plants and seedlings in native bush, preventing regeneration which destroys native wildlife habitat and food sources.
- Bennett’s wallaby can breed from a young age, which means populations can build quickly if not well-managed. One female wallaby can potentially stem a new population.
- The peak breeding season is in February and March. When the female is in season she will often be followed by several males.
- Males and females are reproductively mature by two years of age. Females will only raise one joey per year. They can initially carry twins but only carry one to weaning as there is not enough room in the pouch.
- The joey is born after a 28 - 30-day gestation, partially formed, naked and blind with well-developed forearms. It climbs into the pouch and attaches to a teat. At around nine months, it will start to venture out of the doe’s pouch.
- Another unborn young can be retained in the mother’s body in utero for nearly a year, awaiting availability of the pouch. This is known as delayed implantation or embryonic diapause. So, a wallaby doe with young in pouch and one in utero could stem a new breeding population if one of the young is a male.
- Bennett’s wallabies may live nine years or longer.
What’s being done
We joined the Biosecurity New Zealand (MPI) led Tipu Mātoro National Wallaby Eradication Programme in July 2020.
The programme is a partnership that includes central and local government agencies, iwi, farmers, landholders and communities.
Together we have a vision for a wallaby-free Aotearoa.
The three work stream priorities within the national programme are:
- STOP - Continuing to control breeding populations outside the containment area to locally eradicate wallaby numbers.
- SEARCH - Search wider areas outside the containment area to ensure no unknown populations exist.
- SEAL - Intensive control within the containment area buffer or fringe areas to reduce continued wallaby spread.
Once we stop the spread of wallabies from the containment area, and eliminate outlier populations, we intend to progressively reduce densities within containment towards the aspirational goal of eradication when such tools arrive.
The Tipu Mātoro Aotearoa New Zealand wallaby strategy sets out the partnership’s proactive plan for protecting New Zealand’s natural and production environments from introduced pest wallabies.
Please check our Public Notices page for upcoming wallaby control work on public land.
Control requirements and responsibility
Responsibility for the planning, coordination and implementation of wallaby control passed to landowners in 1992, after they voted to disband the South Canterbury Wallaby Board and opt for user-pays pest control.
We produced our first Regional Pest Management Plan in 1996. It outlines a compliance-level requirement of what landholders have opted to maintain within the containment area. The plan requires landholders to control and maintain wallaby numbers on their land at or below Level 3 on the Guilford Scale.
It is essential that the wallaby control method you choose is implemented humanely, using best practice and tailored to the level of wallaby present. We've created a guide to help you decide on the best control option for your property (PDF file, 29.3MB).
We will carry out inspections within the containment area and, in some cases, may help to coordinate control work between multiple landholders.
Outside of the containment area, we will be responsible for ensuring wallaby populations don’t become established.
This scale assesses wallaby population levels.
1. No faecal or track sign seen but area known to be within feral range of wallabies.
2. Infrequent faecal sign seen. Track sign absent. One or two pellet groups seen when traversing 100m. Unlikely to see any wallabies.
3. Frequent faecal and track sign seen, but only in isolated pockets. Likely to se some wallabies.
4. Faecal and track sign very obvious and consistent. Tracks are well used. High probability of seeing wallabies.
5. High density of faecal and track sign distribute almost uniformly. Tracks well used. High probability of seeing wallabies.
No one person, agency or group is going to win this battle alone - it requires all of us to work together.
Alongside efforts encouraging people to report wallaby sightings, a new video has been released about the serious damage these pests cause to our environment.