The release of 10 “seeker” wallabies fitted with satellite GPS collars into sites in South Canterbury last month marks a New Zealand first in the nationwide fight against Bennett’s wallaby, an invasive introduced pest.
Over the next 12 months, these “seeker” or spy wallabies will be monitored by a hunting team in the hope they will lead them to other wallabies. 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.
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 wallabies, which are moderately gregarious, it could make a significant difference to efforts to eradicate Bennett’s wallaby from Otago and South Canterbury, particularly in areas where there are very low wallaby numbers.
The Otago Regional Council’s project delivery specialist for national programmes, Gavin Udy, said the Otago Regional Council (ORC), in collaboration with Environment Canterbury and the Tipu Mātoro National Wallaby Eradication Programme, hopes the two-year research programme testing the usefulness of seeker wallabies will 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,” Udy said.
“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.”
ORC is investing $110,000 over two years in the field work component of this research, the potential benefits of which 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 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 and the Animal Ethics Committee of Lincoln University, and permission granted by landowners to release the wallabies.
There has been an increase in reported wallaby sightings in the past year, which is good news, and people are asked to keep an eye out and report wallaby sightings, dead or alive, and wallaby kills at reportwallabies.nz