Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Otago ‘spy’ wallabies deployed in fight against pest

The release of 10 ‘seeker’ wallabies fitted with satellite GPS collars into sites in South Canterbury last week marks a New Zealand first in the nationwide fight against Bennett’s wallaby, an invasive introduced pest.

Over the next 12 months, these ‘seeker’ wallaby will be monitored by a hunting team to see if they lead the hunters to other wallabies, Otago Regional Council has announced.

Those other wallabies will then be shot, leaving the seeker wallaby to continue to seek out more wallabies until no more individuals can be found, the Council said.

Using ‘seeker’ animals as a method of pest control is common in feral goat and tahr control. If the technique can be used successfully for wallaby, it could make a significant difference to efforts to eradicate Bennett’s wallaby from Otago and South Canterbury, says Council Project Delivery Specialist – National Programmes, Gavin Udy.

Mr Udy said the Council, in collaboration with Environment Canterbury and the Tipu Mātoro National Wallaby Eradication Programme, hoped the two-year research programme testing the usefulness of seeker wallaby would provide a new tool in the battle against this fast-breeding pest.

“Tipu Mātoro’s research programme is all about improving existing wallaby detection, surveillance, and control methods, and finding new ones to address the pest wallaby problem,” says Mr Udy.

“Finding wallabies across large landscapes and difficult terrain where there are few present, is labour intensive. Any wallabies that go undetected allow small breeding populations to form and grow and become established over time. This is why it is critical that we develop new cost-effective tools to find wallabies in these environments.”

Council is investing $110,000 over two years in the field work component of this research, the potential benefits of which it says will far exceed the costs of the level of investment made in terms of protecting Otago from wallaby spread and the damage they do to native bush, farms, crops, commercial forestry, and our biodiversity.

As part of the partnership, the Tipu Mātoro National Wallaby Eradication Programme is contributing an additional $100,000, while another programme partner, Environment Canterbury, is supporting the research through landowner consultation, DNA sampling and supplementary control work.

The research is being conducted under approved permits from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Animal Ethics Committee of Lincoln University, and permission granted by landowners to release the wallaby.

The public are asked to report a sighting here: reportwallabies.nz.

Why are wallaby considered a pest? https://www.orc.govt.nz/managing-our-environment/pest-hub/animals/bennett-s-wallaby.

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