Farmers and landowners in the Rotorua region are ramping up efforts to control a long-time wallaby population that is starting to drift beyond its original base.
A resident population of Dama wallabies in were first released near Lake Okareka in 1912 and since then its distribution has been creeping throughout the district.
Estimates are with that no control measures in place a third of the North Island will be overrun with them within 50 years.
The focus on wallaby populations in both the North Island and South Island was ramped up after covid’s arrival as part of the Government’s covid recovery budget in 2020.
The elusive pests had $27 million of eradication funding targeted at them to curb losses estimated at $28m a year in lost pasture production.
Estimates are losses risk blowing out to $85 million a year in lost production if populations continue to grow.
Davor Bejakovich, wallaby programme manager for Bay of Plenty Regional Council, says the control focus is on the fringe populations believed to be increasing beyond the core numbers near Lake Okareka.
“One of the issues with wallabies is that not a great deal is really known about them and how best to control them. This is unlike possums that carry Tb and got attention for that. Wallabies are more of a biodiversity issue,and a pest on pastures.”
The Dana wallaby in Rotorua is particularly problematic because of its shy, nocturnal nature and smaller size.
“We are following up on all anecdotal sightings of them, even if they are in the core area. At this stage we are really trying to determine exactly where they are. We are encouraging farmers and landowners to report them, regardless of where they see them.”
Council staff have been using dogs trained in detecting wallaby scent, identifying locations from which hunters can visit after dark.
A significant proportion of the budget funds have been allocated to researching the pest’s habits and best means to eliminate them.
Even how much they eat as an equivalent stock unit is still uncertain, with some estimates as high as three wallabies equating to one sheep.
“At present we only have three means to poison them, a cyanide type poison, 1080 and shooting them. There are other poisons suitable for possums, but at this stage they are not registered to use against wallabies.”
Their shy eating habits also mean they are fussy about rats and possums being near bait stations, necessitating the removal of those pests first.
Bejakovich says he doubted wallaby numbers were buoyed by any “cuteness” factor, compared to possums or rats.
“The Mamaku School’s hunt day had 71 of them shot and I don’t think anyone was too concerned over their cuteness there.”
Further south, farmers in the South Canterbury district have been dogged by wallaby pests for years, with the local Waimate Barn Café turning the animals into fillings for wallaby pies two years ago.
Proving popular on launch, the café’s customers consumed 25kg of wallaby in two short weeks, enough for about 250 pies.
A café staff member confirmed to Farmers Weekly that demand has remained strong since, selling on average two pies a day.
“We find our customers are quite intrigued by them,” she said.