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Drones step up war on wallabies

While winter conditions can limit wallaby control work on the ground, this is the best time of year to scout for pests using helicopters and drones equipped with thermal cameras.

In recent weeks, Otago Regional Council contractors have been working in the Livingstone and Shag (Waihemo) River areas using drones and thermal imaging cameras, and working with field hunters and dogs wearing a radio collar, to track and destroy wallabies.

Wallaby populations were first established in New Zealand for recreational hunting in the 1870s. Although there is a 900,000 ha containment area for Bennett’s wallaby in southern Canterbury, centered on the Hunter Hills and including the Two Thumb, Kirkliston and Grampian ranges, the density and geographic distribution of animals has been steadily increasing since the adoption of user-pay control. in 1992.

In fiscal year 2021/22, the ORC received 38 reports of wallaby sightings from the public, of which 24 were confirmed and 8 destroyed. Sightings were reported across Otago – in Lake Hawea, Dunstan Range, Hawkdun Range, North Otago and Dunedin – but most were from the North Otago area. The eight wallabies destroyed were in Clyde (1), Richmond (1), Boundary Creek (2), Kyeburn (1), and Horse Range (2, plus 1 joey).

Wallabies, which had no natural predators in New Zealand, caused severe environmental damage, depleting forest understory and preventing regeneration of native forests, competing with livestock for food, messing pastures and damaging crops and agricultural fences, said Libby Caldwell, the ORC’s acting environmental enforcement officer. said.

The ORC launched its wallaby program in 2016, when there was a surge in numbers in Otago. It is part of the Ministry of Primary Industries’ National Wallaby Eradication Programme, taking a coordinated and strategic approach to eradicating wallabies from New Zealand.

“The wallabies are now in Otago and we need to act quickly to stop the spread of this pest,” Ms Caldwell said.

In terms of the national program, Otago was the closest to achieving eradication in the short to medium term, but success would depend on members of the public reporting the sightings, Ms Caldwell said.

“The public is a vital part of our eradication program, reporting sightings.

“If we don’t act to eradicate the wallaby population, we face a very real threat to the iconic landscapes we love here in Otago.”

The economic benefit to the South Island from the eradication of wallabies was estimated at over $23.5 million per year, but if no action was taken the cost to the economy could reach around $67 million. dollars in 10 years, Ms. Caldwell said.

The ORC has six contractors undertaking eradication work, employing around 50 people.

At night, and particularly in winter when cooler temperatures make it easier to spot wallabies, drone operators use thermal imaging cameras to track down pests. Helicopters equipped with thermal cameras are also used in the early morning and late afternoon to search areas where signs have been detected, and in remote or inaccessible areas.

Everyone is linked to an app called WALL-IS, which puts everything on the national wallaby database to map areas that have been searched.

To report a wallaby sighting, visit reportwallabies.nz.

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