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The Wallaby Threat – A hop, skip and jump away from our happy hunting grounds

A plot at Ōkataina near Rotorua fenced off to exclude wallabies shows the damage (at left) wallabies do to our native forest. Photo: Biosecurity New Zealand

While familiar to hunters, surprisingly, not everyone knows New Zealand has wallabies in the wild, about the damage they do, or that they are spreading – including ever closer to our much-loved backcountry haunts.

About wallabies in New Zealand

Wallabies were introduced to New Zealand from Australia in the late 1800s, mainly for hunting. Bennett’s wallabies were introduced into South Canterbury from Tasmania, while the smaller dama and parma species were brought into the Rotorua Lakes area from Kawau Island where Sir George Grey had several species in a private zoo.

Wallabies are nocturnal, shy and elusive. They normally avoid human contact, hiding in scrub or forest margins during the day and coming out at dusk to graze before disappearing again before sunrise. Wallabies don’t have any natural predators here and have adapted so well that they’re now a major pest chewing their way through our farms, forests, native bush and landscapes. Conservatively, it’s estimated that there are more than 1 million pest wallabies in the wild – basically, one wallaby for every five New Zealanders.

If left unchecked, estimates are that wallabies could spread to over one third of New Zealand within 50 years,1 costing New Zealanders millions of dollars each year in damage to our productive and natural environments.

As a result, wallabies are an Unwanted Organism under New Zealand’s Biosecurity Act 1993 – making it illegal to hold, move or transport wallabies without specific authorisations. Those who do so can face significant penalties, including fines of up to $100,000 and/or prison for up to five years.

Wallabies breed easily and, with their exceptional ability to pause pregnancies and have a ‘pre-prepared’ embryo available immediately, it is a huge concern that within a short time, the illegal release of a single pregnant female can easily create a new population in a new area.

Because wallaby distribution is localised, people believe pest wallabies to be a ‘local’ problem. However, they’ve been spreading from South Canterbury down to Otago and from the Rotorua Lakes area into other areas of the Bay of Plenty and parts of the Waikato. Without action, what might now be a local problem will soon be a significant national problem like possums and rabbits.

The maps show predicted spread, including into many popular game hunting and recreational areas, by 2065 if nothing is done about the wallabies. Amongst others, parts of the Kaimanawa, Kaweka and Raukumara ranges in the North Island and the South Island’s Aoraki/Mt Cook, Mt Aspiring and Mt Somers areas are all under threat.

Pest wallabies are everyone’s problem, and by acting now, we have the chance to stop them and their damage becoming as widespread as other introduced pests.

How do wallabies affect our natural environments and enjoyment of them?

It can be difficult to convince people that wallabies are pests; the perception is that they’re cute and harmless. With a predator like a stoat, people see the harm, whereas the impact of wallabies is slower and more insidious.

Wallabies are herbivores that prefer to eat young plants, making them an environmental threat to New Zealand’s private and public conservation land. Besides grazing and damaging farm pasture and crops, wallabies browse on seedlings that become our native bush and scrub. Browsing by introduced pests stops seedlings from becoming saplings and, eventually, the mature vegetation that provides food and habitat to other species as well as filtering rainfall that helps with water quality and erosion prevention.

Additionally, by eating seedlings and killing young trees, wallabies may reduce the uptake of atmospheric carbon as vegetation grows causing forests to release rather than hold carbon.

Alongside the devastation to native flora, wildlife habitat and food sources, by lessening the number of plant species, wallabies change the structure and biodiversity of our bush and backcountry environments. This affects the health of these environments and the wildlife dependent on them. It also impacts our experiences and the restorative effect these environments have on our individual and collective wellbeing.

Over time, the health, condition and abundance of wildlife competing with wallabies for food will be compromised. Target hunting species may be pushed farther from their usual locations to forage, which might mean hunters have to travel farther to pursue possibly less healthy animals.

What is being done about wallabies?

Our awesome natural landscapes are envied worldwide, with New Zealanders’ ability to enjoy outdoor experiences hard-wired into our national psyche. Preserving these recreational places, unspoiled by wallaby and other introduced pest damage, is fundamental to what defines us.

The Tipu Mātoro National Wallaby Eradication Programme was set up in July 2020 to tackle mainland New Zealand’s dama, parma and Bennett’s pest wallaby problem. In partnership with Biosecurity New Zealand, iwi and regional councils in wallaby-affected areas, the Department of Conservation (DOC), Federated Farmers, Forest & Bird, Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), farmers, landowners, researchers and communities, its final goal is to eliminate all wallabies from mainland New Zealand.

The Tipu Mātoro Aotearoa New Zealand Wallaby Strategy, which guides the programme, was developed with people affected by wallabies. Its first step is to stop the spread from the Rotorua Lakes and South Canterbury areas, and then to reduce wallaby populations over time.

Operationally, this means working from the outside edge of the wallaby populations and reducing the area they cover so that full elimination becomes possible in the future. That’s a task that will take some years and requires everyone working together in a coordinated and systematic way.

Coordination is key. Sporadically eliminating large numbers of wallabies at the centre of populations may be tempting but must be avoided to prevent wallabies becoming ‘control (or gun) shy’ and scattering them into new or previously cleared areas.

The programme’s control funding (including on land administered by DOC) goes to regional councils via Biosecurity New Zealand. This maximises efficiencies and benefits by coordinating between neighbours (including iwi, DOC and LINZ as large landholders) to target wallabies in a systematic way, regardless of who owns the land. Currently, the programme has ongoing Crown funding of $6.9 million per year with further contributions from regional councils, iwi and landowners.

Control work is done by contractors employed by the Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Canterbury and Otago regional councils. People with an interest in control work should contact the relevant regional council about plans and council’s contractor requirements.

The bottom line is that if wallabies continue to spread, or are helped to spread, control operations will be forced into more locations. Support for the work being done now will lessen the need to control wallabies in popular recreational hunting areas in the future.

Hunting response
Nocturnal and start feeding early to late evening.Stake out likely feeding areas from early evening through to darkness.
Fast, elusive movement when disturbed.Stake out an area and shoot at stationary animals from an observation point rather than stalking.
Wallaby sign includes scratching (around plant roots), tracking, browsed grass or shrubs, footprints and droppings.Presence of fresh sign is an indicator of wallabies nearby.
Wallabies use well-defined tracks to access feeding areas.Identify and stake out tracks.


Controlling wallabies

Controlling wallabies as humanely and cost-effectively as possible, while weighing recognised concerns about some control methods from various sectors, is a balance the programme works with constantly.

Operational activities vary from region to region according to levels of wallaby infestation, terrain, habitat and location. They include surveillance to identify wallaby populations, control operations (poisoning and aerial and ground-based shooting) and fencing at key locations to prevent spread.

Better knowledge and tools will be crucial to meet social expectations and achieve the long-term goal. Therefore, there is heavy investment in operational research to find, test and improve tools and methods for tackling wallabies while minimising impacts on farming, forestry and recreational activities.

This research work includes:

• improving existing and developing new control tools like trialling new wallaby toxins (such as Double Tap™*), testing better bait station designs and lures, and using deer repellents

• developing more effective ways to detect wallabies by using artificial intelligence for wallaby image recognition, environmental DNA techniques, unmanned aerial vehicles, thermal and night-vision technologies on the ground and in the air, and GPS-collared wallabies

• using isotopes and genetics to better understand where wallabies have come from and how they behave and move across landscapes.

Public reports of sightings, signs and wallaby kills are critical to know wallabies are where they should be and to identify potential leakage points from which wallabies might spread, including into backcountry areas.

Rolling back wallaby spread will never be cheaper or more feasible than it is today. Letting wallabies spread invites increased costs and irreparable damage. The numbers of wallabies killed or the cost per wallaby killed are not useful measures of programme performance, since the issue is how many wallabies remain in the wild. The programme’s positive impact can be seen in the increasing distances that control teams must now cover to find a wallaby.

What can hunters do?

The most important factor is understanding and supporting the work being done to protect your happy hunting ground from wallabies. Supporting the current work will help keep control teams out of popular recreational areas.

Tell a mate and get them on board with the wallaby problem and threat to what you love doing.

Report any wallaby signs, sightings or kills you make to reportwallabies.nz Encourage others to report; footprints and droppings are the most common signs.

Don’t move wallabies around and discourage others from doing this. Wallabies are pests, not pets – this includes joeys (pouch young). While having wallabies nearby may appear a convenient hunting or dog tucker prospect, the actual price is our environments, future hunting opportunities and the hunting community’s reputation.

If you are hunting wallabies, then know the humane ‘kill zone’ through the shoulder for a heart/lung shot.

Check pouches and humanely dispatch joeys. Don’t take them home.

Keep yourself, mates and dogs safe. If wallaby control signs are up, keep dogs out of the block.

Learn more at mpi.govt.nz/wallabies

Keep in touch or sign up for a newsletter by emailing wallaby@mpi.govt.nz

Let’s work together to protect our environment and hunting experiences from pest wallabies.

About wallabies and identifying them

Dama wallaby 

Macropus eugenii


Macropus parma


Macropus rufogriseus 

Up to 50cm tall; 4-7kgUp to 45cm tall; 3-6kgUp to 80cm tall; 14-20kg
Brownish grey (more like a rabbit); paler underbellyGreyish brown (more like a hare); white throat and chestWider and thicker

Scruffier looking

Social behaviour
Forms small groupsNormally solitary Solitary
Sexual maturity
Females: 12 months

Males: 24 months

Females: 12 months

Males: 24 months

Females: 14-20 months

Males: 21-22 months

Gestation & 
in-pouch period
28 days

Pouch ~ 250 days

35 days

Pouch ~ 220 days

30 days

Pouch ~270 days

Peak season January to FebruaryAnytime, most births February to JulyAnytime, most births February to March
Life expectancy
in the wild
8-10 years on average6-8 years on average9-12 years on average


Hunting wallabies

A light calibre weapon with a flat trajectory like a .222 or .243 is ideal for shooting wallabies as light-weighted animals, often shot at medium to long distances.

Spring is a particularly good time to hunt wallabies – when they come out of the forest or cover to feed on new grass and shrub growth.

Hunting on public conservation land. If you have a permit, there are many places to hunt wallabies on public conservation land. To find out more on requirements, permits and finding a hunting block that has wallabies, check out doc.govt.nz hunting

Hunting on private land. Landowner permission is required in all cases to hunt on private land, including land held by iwi.

Unfortunately, the Tipu Mātoro programme and its partners cannot help matching hunters with landowners.

Your local branch of the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association (NZDA) may have access to wallabies, so you can also talk to them about getting in on a hunt.

1. Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research 2016 Report. Review of current and future predicted distributions & impacts of Bennett’s and dama wallabies in mainland New Zealand, MPI, March 2016.
* Article updated 24/05/2024. 

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