Bennett's (red-necked) wallaby Macropus rufogriseus rufogriseus

About this pest

KEY CLUES

Distinctive features: Bennett’s wallaby looks like a small kangaroo.  It is the largest species of wallaby established in New Zealand. Shaggy grey-brown fur, with rufous (red) colouration over the shoulders, and black-tipped hind feet and tail. A very alert animal.

Size: Up to 800 mm tall, with a tail of slightly shorter length. Adult weight about 15 kg up to 25kg.

Droppings: Flattened square shape but can be more elongated and round or pear-shaped. Droppings are 25-30 mm long and 15 mm wide at the broadest end.

Footprints: Hand-like front feet. Hind feet about 220 mm long, with one central elongated toe and a shorter toe either side. Make trails that often lead into tunnels under dense thickets of scrub and flax.

Kill signs: Not applicable (herbivore).

Vegetation damage: Sign of their feeding on vegetation is often indistinguishable from that of other mammalian herbivores that share their New Zealand habitat, such as sheep, deer and hares.

Eye shine: Pink tints.

Distribution: Within New Zealand Bennett’s wallaby is found only in the South Island; the core population occurring north of the Waitaki River and south of the Rangitata River in South Canterbury.

Why are Bennett's wallabies pests?

Unwanted Organism

Bennett’s wallaby is classified as an Unwanted Organism in New Zealand due to this species' adverse ecological and agricultural impacts. (Dama wallaby, parma wallaby, brushtailed rock wallaby and swamp wallaby are similarly classified as unwanted organisms in New Zealand.) If you think you have seen a wallaby in the wild, phone your regional council or the Ministry for Primary Industries Pests and Diseases Hotline 0800 80 99 66.

Ecological impacts

Bennett’s wallaby is primarily a grazer, feeding on a wide variety of indigenous and exotic grasses and herbs, but it also browses palatable shrub and tree species. They can deplete the understorey of remnant patches of indigenous forest, sometimes preventing regeneration of the most palatable species.

Other impacts

Wallabies compete with livestock for food, like rabbits, reducing pasture to a short sward, which can limit the number of livestock farmers can run on their properties. Wallabies can also foul sheep feed, destroy agricultural crops and pine plantings, and have even been reported damaging fences.

 Read more about Bennett’s wallaby


Droppings

Separate

Individual faecal pellets often have a flattened square shape but can be more elongated and round in cross-section, or pear-shaped. Droppings are about 25 - 30 mm long and 15 mm wide at the broadest end. If wallabies are feeding on coarse plants, their droppings are usually deposited individually, but varies with season and also depends on what they have been eating.

Can be confused with:

Individual droppings of Bennett’s wallaby are unlikely to be confused with those of other species as they are distinctive from other mammals and no other wallaby species occurs in the same area of distribution.

Clumped

Bennett’s wallaby droppings can be found stuck together in a clump as well as individual pellets, often varying with the diet and season. The individual faecal pellets are about 25-30 mm long and 15 mm wide at the broadest end and have a flattened square or rounded shape in cross section, and can be elongated or pear-shaped. The size of a clump will depend on how many individual droppings have stuck together.

Can be confused with:

Individual Bennett’s wallaby droppings are unlikely to be confused with those of other species as they are distinctive from other mammals and no other wallaby species occurs in the same area of distribution. However, if clumped droppings are very soft, the distinctive pellet shape may not be obvious, and they might be confused with soft, clumped droppings of species like sheep, goats or deer.

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Footprints and Tracks

Paws and feet

Bennett’s wallabies have a typical kangaroo-like foot and a long tail that is nearly as long as the rest of the body. The tail is sometimes used as a ‘fifth support limb’. The hind foot has a long middle toe and a small toe either side. The heel of the foot may be visible in a footprint particularly on a soft surface and sometimes you may see the tail print also. The forefeet are more hand-shaped. 

When moving fast, Bennett’s wallabies hop using the two rear feet but use all four feet when moving more slowly, especially when feeding. Bennett’s wallabies are also good swimmers, using a ‘dog paddle’ motion.

Can be confused with

As Bennett’s wallaby is the only wallaby species in the South Island, its footprints are unlikely to be confused with other species.

Trails and Runs

Bennett’s wallabies create well defined trails from shrubland and scrub areas to open pasture grassland. They move along these trails during the late afternoon or dusk and back again at dawn. Trails are often formed from dens repeatedly used in daytime.

Can be confused with:

In the area where Bennett’s wallabies occur, similar trails from forest into grassland are made by possums and hares, and tracks up and down spurs are made by ungulate species such as deer and goat.  Check for distinguishing footprints.

Dens and nests

Bennett’s wallabies make dens in secluded thickets of scrub and flax or under logs. The dens are often lined with leaves and moss. Dens are more commonly used by female wallabies as daytime refuges from which they emerge at night to graze and, in season, mate. Dens are not shared or defended. More open daytime resting sites are sometimes found in grassy clearings in the forest or amongst tussocks and flax at higher altitudes. These more open nest sites are more commonly used by males than females.

Can be confused with:

Other species make dens or nests including possums, feral cats and deer species. Look for other clues such as droppings, fur, footprints, smell or animal sighting to help identify the species.

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Vegetation Damage

Understorey (less than 3m)

Bennett’s wallaby are primarily grazers of open grassland, eating grasses and herbs, including indigenous species, such as the large daisy Celmisia spectabilis, that sheep do not eat. In forests, they can severely deplete the understorey and prevent regeneration of palatable species by browsing foliage and digging with their forepaws to feed on the roots of forest and shrub species.

Can be confused with

Bennett's wallaby grazing on farmland pasture cannot easily be differentiated from that of sheep. They can leave a distinctive ‘browse line’ in scrub and forest; however, this can be confused with species, like sheep, goats, and hares that also feed at a similar height to wallabies. Wallabies' scratching and digging sign can be confused with species like rabbits, hares and possums.

Plant leaves

Bennett's wallaby browsing on foliage is indistiguishable from that of most otehr mammalian herbivores that occur in the same area, although signs of feeding on the large daisy, Celmisia spectabilis, can indicate Bennett’s wallabies rather than sheep, which tend not to eat it. 

Can be confused with:

Deer, sheep or goats, all of which occur in the Bennett's wallaby habitat in South Canterbury. Deer and goats may also eat the large daisy, Celmisia spectabilis.

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Kill Sign

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Other Clues

Smell

Bennett’s wallabies have a good sense of smell and use scent marking to communicate with other wallabies. The male wallaby has scent glands on its chest. However, no information could be found on what they smell like.

Sound

Bennett’s wallaby make few oral sounds but may thump their hind feet as an alarm if disturbed. Otherwise they mainly communicate by scent marking or using their ears – which are pricked as part of an aggressive display or quivering if an individual is submitting. If a male approaches a female when she is not in season she will often hiss or cough at him.

Can be confused with:

Deer and feral sheep sometimes stomp their forefoot. Some deer species and occasionally goats will cough or bark when disturbed. (Other wallaby species are also foot thumpers but do not occur where Bennett's wallaby do in South Canterbury.)

Body covering

Bennett’s wallabies have shaggy grey-brown fur that is rufous (red)-coloured over the shoulders, and paler on its chest and belly.

Eye shine

When you point a light at a Bennett’s wallaby, the eyes have a pinkish shine, similar to other wallaby species. 

Can be confused with:

Possums also have pinkish-red eye shine. 

Distribution

In New Zealand, Bennett’s wallaby is found widely in South Canterbury, north of the Waitaki River, south of the Rangitata River and east of the Tekapo River. It is most numerous in the Hunter Hills but is found widely to the west and north of there in the Grampian Mountains, Dalgety Range, Two Thumb Range, Kirkliston Range, north to Fairlie, Kakahu Forest, Pareora gorge, Opihi gorge and Cave area.

Small populations have been found outside this area in North Otago, where animals have crossed over the Aviemore Dam, and in Ashley Forest north of Christchurch after being transported there illegally. Individuals have also been confirmed in Banks Peninsula, the Rakaia River and near Lake Hawea, indicating that this species is extending its distribution naturally and through illegal liberations. Any sightings outside of their core distribution should be reported to your regional council or the Ministry for Primary Industries Pests and Diseases Hotline 0800 80 99 66

Only two species of wallaby occur on mainland New Zealand; Bennett’s wallaby as described above and dama wallaby around Rotorua on the North Island.

Can be confused with:

No other wallaby species is currently present in the same geographical area as Bennett’s wallaby.

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More about Bennett’s wallaby

Origin

The subspecies of Bennett’s wallaby found in New Zealand originates fromTasmania and Bass Strait islands, Australia. In 1870, several animals were brought from Tasmania to Christchurch and bred. In 1874, several animals from this breeding unit were liberated in the eastern Hunter Hills near Waimate.

Description

Bennett’s wallaby are the largest of the introduced wallaby species in New Zealand.  It is a stout looking animal that often stands on its large hind legs and uses its long muscular tail for balance. The head has a pointed snout and upright ears. It is an alert species and constantly scans the surrounding area for danger.  The shaggy grey-brown fur has rufous (red) colouration over the shoulders and is pale grey on the chest and belly. The hind feet, back paws and tail are black-tipped. The nose is black with a white stripe on the upper lip.

Size and weight

Bennett's wallaby measure 660 to 920 mm in head and body length, plus 600 to 700 mm tail length. They weigh around 15 kg up to 25kg.

Behaviour

Bennett’s wallaby are generally nocturnal, solitary animals and usually keep under cover during the day, emerging in the late afternoon and evening to feed. They move along well-defined tracks from their day-time cover to open grass areas. They can travel up to 3 km in one evening to feed but typically move less that 200 m if ample food is available close-by. They can dig up roots with their forepaws and can regurgitate food (preceded by violent retching) and then eat it again.  They drink occasionally, especially during warmer months. Although largely solitary, Bennett’s wallabies can share common feeding areas in loose groups, known as mobs.

When the female is in season she will often be followed by several males. Both males and females are reproductively mature by two years of age, although some individuals mature as early 14 months. The peak breeding season is in February and March. Females carry only one joey (baby) in their pouch at a time. The joey, which is born partially formed, naked and blind, climbs into the pouch and attaches to a teat there. After 50-75 days, joeys can release themselves from the teat. They open their eyes at 135-150 days and are covered in fur at 165-175 days. At about nine months, they start to venture out of mum’s pouch. Another unborn young can be retained in the mother’s body for nearly a year, awaiting the pouch to become available.

Bennett’s wallabies may live nine years or longer.

Diet

Bennett’s wallaby eats a wide variety of vegetation including indigenous and introduced species. Fundamentally it is a grazer of open grasslands and in the central South Island it has adapted to feed on tall tussock (Chionochloa species) and browse on shrubs like matagouri (Discaria toumatou), and remnant forest patches composed of species such as māhoe (Melicytus ramiflorus), putaputawētā (Carpodetus serratus) and fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata). In forest remnants, Bennett’s wallaby can severely devastate the understorey by defoliating palatable species and prevent their regeneration.

Studies of their grazing have revealed they feed on at least 25 species of grass and herb, both indigenous and exotic species. Although generally considered indiscriminate grazers, Bennett's wallaby favour introduced hawkweeds (Hieracium species) and clover (Trifolium species). When feeding on grass, they crouch and move their heads in an arc. While feeding on shrubs, they use their forepaws to manipulate the food source. Females will hand leaves to their young in the pouch.

Habitat

Bennett’s wallaby are an edge species; they forage in open areas of grassland along the forest edge and take refuge in scrub or dense forest vegetation during the day. They can survive in sub-zero temperatures on shady snow-covered mountain slopes during winter.  In New Zealand they can be found up to 2,000 m above sea level.

Other

They have a keen sense of smell.

How to get rid of it

Culling by Government and private hunters using dogs was the main form of control in the 1940-1960s. Since then a combination of aerial poisoning with 1080, ground-based use of 1080 gel, Feratox® cyanide pellets more recently, and hunting with dogs has been used to control them. Contact DOC, Environment Canterbury or Otago Regional Council for advice on control.


 FIND MORE INFORMATION IN:

Wodzicki, K., & Flux, J.E.C. (1967). Guide to introduced wallabies in New Zealand. Tuatara Volume 15, Issue 2.

King, C. (Ed.) (2005). The handbook of New Zealand mammals. Auckland, New Zealand. Oxford University Press.

Parks & Wildlife Service, Tasmania. (2010). Bennetts wallaby, Macropus rufogriseus. Retrieved in March 2017 from http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/?base=4857

National Pest Control Agencies. (2015). Pest wallabies: control and monitoring of pest dama and Bennett’s wallabies. Wellington, New Zealand. http://www.npca.org.nz/images/stories/NPCA/PDF/a9_pest%20wallabies_2015-nov_lr.pdf