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Published: 2011-02-01 00:00:00

Environment Waikato is appealing for the public to report any sightings of wild dama  wallabies in the Waikato following a concerning number of reports of the animals outside their usual “feral zone” in the region.

Normally, the creatures are found in this feral zone in the part Rotorua district that is in EW’s area and eastwards of there. The largest Waikato population of dama wallaby is at Tumunui, with smaller populations at Ngakuru and Waikite.

But late last year and early this year there have been reported sightings at French Pass (Whitehall), on the outskirts of Morrinsville and at Puketaha on the outskirts of Hamilton. It’s possible the latter two sightings could involve the same animal.

The French Pass sighting was by EW councillor Stu Kneebone who took video footage with his mobile phone.

Also, EW retrieved a dead dama wallaby from the Te Pahu area last year.

EW biosecurity officer Dave Byers said that while there were only a few sightings, the council was concerned about wild wallabies spreading in the region as they are a designated pest which feeds on pasture and native vegetation. When present in high numbers they can cause considerable damage to native species, altering the present and future composition of native forests.

“It could be these recent sightings involve escaped pets or people releasing them to develop a population of animals to hunt,” said Mr Byers.

“Whatever has led to the sightings well outside their usual feral zone, we are keen to build up a more detailed picture of what is happening with wild wallabies in our region so we can properly assess the extent of the threat they pose and what we might need to do in response.”

A specifically trained wallaby detection dog from the Bay of Plenty is being used to search areas surrounding sightings if they are reported to EW within 24 hours.

Dama wallabies were first introduced to New Zealand on Kawau Island in the 1870s and around the southern end of Lake Okareka near Rotorua in 1912. They soon extended their range to the north and east of lake Okareka, and were first recorded in the Waikato region during the 1950s.

The animals are up to half a metre tall and weigh between five to seven kilograms. They are usually nocturnal but are sometimes seen late in the afternoon. Dama wallabies prefer forest margin, or “edge” habitats where they can find cover during the day and graze at night.

EW, Bay of Plenty Regional Council and the Department of Conservation are involved in a collaborative project to restrict the feral range of the wallabies and develop new control techniques.

Any sightings in the Waikato can be reported to 0800 BIOSEC (0800 246 732).