Rogue wallaby an illegal import

Environment Canterbury biosecurity officials are following hot on the heels of a rogue wallaby sighting near Methven. The regional council has received an anonymous tip-off about the wayward marsupial, which hit headlines after being spotted by a resident driving along Mt Hutt Station Road at night on 1 January 2019.

The wallaby is unlikely to have hopped all the way from South Canterbury of its own accord.

Wallabies are legally confined to the zone between the Rangitata and Waitaki rivers, but have been sighted as far afield as Marlborough, Dunedin and Amberley.

Biosecurity team leader South Canterbury Brent Glentworth said the outlying individuals had generally either escaped from, or been released by, people who had transported them from the containment zone. Sometimes hunters would take them as joeys from their dead mother’s pouches, while others could be removed as adults.

There was a dead wallaby sighted in the same general area of Mt Hutt Station Road about two years ago. It could have been put there as a dead wallaby, or released alive and then killed by a car.

The dead wallaby and the recent sighting were unlikely to be from a breeding population, and instead were likely to represent two separate releases.

Glentworth said he had had an anonymous tip-off from a member of the public about the latest sighting.

“Environment Canterbury has received communication that wallaby could have been removed from the containment area and held on a property in that area for a few days,” Glentworth said. He was planning on approaching property owners in the area.

“It’s not out of the realms of possibility that that wallaby got there by itself, but it’s unlikely,” he said. Habitat north of the Rangitata River was not conducive to the spread of the nocturnal marsupials and it was a long way away at 44 kilometres.

Environment Canterbury intended to humanely destroy the wallaby and would try and locate it by walking the area. Cyanide bait could also be used, or a dog to flush it out.

Environment Canterbury spends about $50,000 per year on controlling wallabies outside the containment area.

Wallabies are an agricultural and biodiversity pest, causing approximately $28 million of economic damage every year, and spreading of populations could see this increase to $84 million within 10 years.

There have been other cases of wallabies in Mid Canterbury. In 2007 Environment Canterbury shot one near Ashburton Lakes, while in 2015 it removed a live one from an Ashburton area farmer, and in 2016 a resident handed in a dead joey.

To remove wallabies from the containment zone is an offence under the Biosecurity Act, with fines of up to $50,000.

*This article by Susan Sandys was published in the Ashburton Guardian on 10 January 2019.