Where is Wally is a British series of puzzle books for children. In parts of New Zealand there is now an actual version for adults – looking for where the wall-abies are.
Where is Wally is funny. The figure with the red and white striped top, hat and blue pants can be a fun challenge to find.
Finding wallabies is serious business. Several million dollars are spent each year trying to eliminate or contain them.
In some areas, like the Hunter Hills of South Canterbury or the Rotorua Lakes in the Bay of Plenty, wallabies are an obvious and permanent plague. They look like large, destructive rabbits and thrive in a variety of landscapes. Some classify them as dangerous these days as opossums.
The threat is spreading from the north to Otago. Reporting the presence of wallabies, or signs of them, is encouraged for the public and mandatory for land occupants.
There have also been suggestions of intentional release in Otago and the Banks Peninsula, acts of biosecurity sabotage punishable by fines of up to $50,000 or a year in prison.
Bennett’s wallaby is the curse of the south, and broader public understanding of the concerns is only recent.
They graze effectively and efficiently, chew up the forest understory, kill seedlings in forest plantations, foul pastures, destroy agricultural crops and contribute to erosion. Three wallabies eat as much as one stock unit.
They are described as elusive, nocturnal and solitary, foraging in the open at night and seeking shelter during the day. They are also efficient breeders, with two uteri. They can support three young people at a time.
The strategy is “containment” in heavily infested parts of south Canterbury and the Bay of Plenty – where the smaller dama wallaby is the pest – and eradication elsewhere. Some South Canterbury farmers are spending up to $80,000 a year on control because they have no other choice.
Cyanide, 1080 and shot are used. Wallabies are also hunted for sport and meat.
The government has recognized the seriousness of the threat by providing $27.5 million over four years for screening in 2020. An additional $7 million per year after that is allocated.
The wallaby is another example of an alien species being introduced and finding a welcoming home in the New Zealand range.
Bennett’s wallaby was introduced to South Canterbury in 1874. It was a serious pest in the 1940s. By the 1960s there were up to a million in the area. They were eventually repelled by concerted and coordinated efforts before their numbers rose again rapidly beginning around 1990. Several types of wallabies have been brought to New Zealand over the years for pelts, as pets and for display. The Bennett wallaby – males weigh up to 20 kg and females up to 14 kg – and the dama wallaby are the destructive heritage.
Otago Regional Council launched its control program in 2016, and continues its efforts under the slogan “identify, report and destroy”. Its goal of eradication in parts of northern Otago is under strain.
She and Environment Canterbury have put up road signs this year encouraging the public to report sightings.
It took time for rural communities, regional councils and the government to appreciate the extent of the threat and put in place means of combating it.
Wallabies were also seen as a curious point of difference for Waimate. The yellow shed south of Timaru on State Highway One, with its suggestion of “jumping” into town, is a sign of this.
It’s time for the wider population to know where the wallabies are and where they could be spreading.
Otago and Southland already have too many serious pests without allowing wallabies to take hold more.