A sniffer dog stops wallabies from jumping south

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A cute detector dog named Toby helps an Otago pest control team hunt down wily wallabies crossing the Waitaki River.

Australian imports are escaping from South Canterbury’s Wallaby Containment Area in search of greener pastures.

Blake Clinch and Amy Knopers spend most of their time hunting wallabies.

The couple work for High Country Contracting, which is employed by the Otago Regional Council to remove invasive marsupials as part of a national program.

Country Life tracked the intrepid duo to a hilltop forest block that overlooks the Waitaki Valley.

“We got here three weeks ago with thermal drones and saw a wallaby so we’re here today monitoring with a dog to see if we can find more poop (poo) to make sure that it’s not a larger population than just one,” Blake says.

Toby has his gear and can’t wait to get going.

“He was a rescue dog and I adopted him from (the) SPCA,” Amy says.

However, she does not know what race it is.

“Our best guess is that it’s a springer spaniel crossed with a fox terrier!”

It took Amy four years to train Toby to work as a detection dog looking for wallaby poo. When it finds it, it lies down.

“It’s called a passive cue where they point their nose at the target saying ‘look mum, it’s here!'”

Bennett’s wallaby was first introduced to South Canterbury in 1874 for sport and its valuable pelt.

By the 1940s they had become a major pest – depleting forest understory, competing with livestock for food, and damaging agricultural crops and fence lines.

Blake doesn’t know what the current South Canterbury wallaby population is, but he speculates it could be in the hundreds of thousands.

“I’ve seen crowds of over 100 people in the containment zone, it’s pretty crazy, and it’s less than a hectare.”

There have already been wallaby sightings as far south as Dunedin, he says.

“One of them was seen in a truckers dash cam so they’re definitely there and they were seen and shot in the Naseby-Ranfurly area.”

Blake describes the creatures as “cryptic”.

“These animals are really hard to track because they have nowhere to go, they just travel”

To help get rid of this pest, Blake is asking people to report any wallaby deaths or sightings to the Otago Regional Council hotline on 0800 474 082 or www.reportwallabies.nz

The economic benefit of eradicating wallabies in the South Island is projected to be over $23.5 million per year.

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