Predicted distributions of dama wallabies (North Island, left) and Bennett’s wallabies (South Island, right) from 2015 through to 2065. These models were created in 2015, based on the best available data at that time. Maps courtesy of Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research. (From Latham et al. 2019. New Zeal J Zool 46: 31-47, DOI: 10.1080/03014223.2018.1470540). (Report wallabies | NZ Government (mpi.govt.nz) )
*Photo: Steve Pilkington; **Photo: Jason Hawker
Our Wallaby Woes
“There’s a wallaby in the gully – wasn’t bothered about me, just kept on munching the leafy willow twig sticking out its mouth.” That was June last Monday evening while on her way out to the goats. She saw it again on the Tuesday. “Disappeared through a gap in the ‘living fence’.” (Matsudana willows that daughter Jemma had planted years ago and trained into a fence that ran at right angles from our northern boundary down as far as the gate at the top of the vegetable garden.)
On the Wednesday, during the heat of the day, in the shade under a toi toi bush growing at the northernmost end of the willow fence. June was up there in her studio and looked out the window about midday and there it was sitting upright under the toi toi looking at her. She said it looked drowsy – ready for its daytime snooze. I went up after lunch and it was lying down because all I could make out were its ears sticking straight up.
Happening on a wallaby a little groggy from a nap would be the only chance I’d get with the gun because in other scenarios all I could imagine was it hopping away before I could get a bead on it or getting away wounded because I was such a crap shot. Years since I’ve used the .22 rifle for anything other than humanely killing one of our goats – a young wether for meat, or to cull an old or sick animal.
I rushed back to the house to retrieve the bullets and bolt-action from their hiding place, a hidey-hole nowhere close to the locked steel cabinet where I kept my gun. Full of crockery! Then I remembered, we’d recently renovated the room and I’d had to find another safe place.
Talk about firing blanks – all blanks as I tried in vain to rifle through my memory. Nothing for it but to take a shot in the dark at likely places round the house, garage, shed – even June’s studio! An hour later and I was totally shot and the wallaby had shot through.
Wednesday night: slept on it, as they say, but still slept well. But none the wiser. Thursday morning: sat down to write about wallabies for this week’s post but couldn’t settle. More than a niggle now – bugging me big time: the odds of needing ammo and bolt for said wallaby were no longer in my favour, but I’d definitely need them for goats.
Abandoned my desk and set to work methodically: room to room, shed to garage to studio. An hour later and halfway through my pain of a hide-and-seek game – there they were – in a bedroom wardrobe behind some bags. Stupid place to put them – grandchildren sleep in that bedroom when they come to stay! But please put your minds at ease, I’ve now got them hidden where children couldn’t possibly discover their whereabouts – but I hope my memory can!
Ominous, that first sighting of a wallaby on our property. A couple of years ago, we saw one further up the gully, on the neighbouring farm, and probably the same one bounding away in a rape crop up the hill behind our place. That one sat taller on its haunches – probably a male weighing in at anywhere between 20-25 kg. Full-grown females will be more like 14-15 kg, which makes me think we’ve got a female hopping around the place now.
Thursday, when I went down at dusk to shut the hens in their coop in the gully for the night, I saw the wallaby some 40 metres away. Fleetingly, we looked straight at each other, then she was gone. A couple of resounding thumps of the ground and then neither sight nor sound: I can see why they say wallabies are “elusive”.
What’s elusive about them when they cross roads is that it’s usually around twilight that they’re grazing the grass verges and their predominantly greyish-brown fur makes them hard to spot at that time of day. June’s sister’s car needed $2,000 dollars’ worth of panel beating to its front bumper and grill after a wallaby hopped in front of her car at dusk on the Fairlie side of Burkes Pass in the Mackenzie District. On the same stretch of road – again as it was getting dark – I spotted one in time as it hopped onto our side of the road; there were no vehicles behind me and so I was able to fleetingly come to a halt in front of the wallaby before it bounded away.
These days, it’s rare to travel on South Canterbury or Mackenzie District roads and not see one or two dead wallabies at the side of the road that have been hit by vehicles. Or to talk to someone who has not had a close encounter with a wallaby or two. Evidence enough that they’re getting established well-outside the Hunter Hills and Waimate areas where they’d been largely confined up until a few years ago.
Large posters and road signs depicting a wallaby and a request to report any sightings are more in evidence now, indicative of the damage they wreak on agricultural land. A reading of the Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) article on the wallaby problem leaves me in no doubt as to why this pest species is “classified as an unwanted organism under sections 52 and 53 of the Biosecurity Act 1993”. According to MPI: “The economic impact of wallabies could reach $84 million a year by 2025. Unless controlled, this cost will increase.” (Report wallabies | NZ Government (mpi.govt.nz) )
Last night, a Sunday, June walked out to the goat paddock to get the goat kids shut away in their shed for the night so that their mums would have milk for her in the morning. Dawn and dusk, the times when wallabies do most of their feeding; she didn’t see it but heard the unmistakable loud thumps of the earth before the silence as it went to ground amongst the tall, dense mat of wheat stalks in a paddock the other side of Little Owl Gully’s northern boundary fence.
It’s been five days since June spotted one under the toi toi bush, and there’s been no return visit to that resting place. I’d sneak up at lunchtime hoping, in vain, that she would be there. The wallaby is obviously keeping its reputation for elusiveness intact.
We don’t want a viable breeding population in our neck of the woods and would like to do our bit when it comes to ‘the wallaby problem’. We’re pretty sure the big fella that paid a visit a couple of years ago was the one run over just down the road by a farm ute. Perhaps this one will share the same fate. Or perhaps I’ll get round to doing some target practice with the rifle, then if I get a bead on it sometime in the future, I’ll have more confidence in my ability to execute a clean kill.
I used to shoot the occasional rabbit that overstayed its welcome at Little Owl Gully; rabbit casserole is one of our favourite meals. What’s more, June is happy to skin, gut, section, and then cook the casserole. Adding to my complacency though – we have a friend, Pat, who gifts us a rabbit whenever he shoots one hopping around his place. Sad to say, Pat and Catherine are moving to Christchurch in the near future.
I think I’ve just about convinced myself that it’s time to step up and get my rifle shooting skills up to speed again: time to reduce the rabbit population closer to home and stop those wallabies from eating us out of house and home!
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.