Wallaby

Feral wallabies are bouncing around Britain

JoAnna Wendel

If you live in Southern England or on the Isle of Man, you might have seen a strange creature hopping around in the last few years.

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That creature is a wallaby, a 3-foot-tall relative of the kangaroo.

JoAnna Wendel

And they’re all over Britain.

JoAnna Wendel

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You might not think of rainy, temperate Britain as a good habitat for a southern hemisphere marsupial native to Tasmania.

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But Holly English and Andrew Caravaggi, authors of a new paper published in Ecology and Evolution, said that Britain’s climate is actually quite similar to their native range, and they survive on a diet of shrubs, weeds, and grass, which grow everywhere.

So...how did wallabies come to Britain in the first place?

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In the late 1800s and early 1900s, animal-lovers imported wallabies for zoos and private ownership.

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Some wallabies escaped, while others were released during World War II, as their owners had other more pressing matters to attend to, the researchers found.

But experts aren’t sure just how many wallabies are running around Britain.

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So English and Caravaggi combed through media reports and public research depositories. They even created a website for people to record sightings.

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The reports were generally positive, English said. People “quite like having this weird animal coming to visit the garden,” she told Inverse.

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Between 2008 and 2018, the researchers confirmed 95 sightings, mostly in southern England.

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Hot spots cropped up: The Chiltern Hills to the west of London and Cornwall in the south.

But don’t try to pet one, the researchers said — although wallabies aren’t necessarily bothered by humans, they do keep their distance.

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“They're clearly not that bothered by hopping through someone's garden or Highgate Cemetery in London, or across a motorway, you know,” Caravaggi told Inverse.

Although the researchers estimate there could be around 100 wallabies hopping around, the study raised more questions than it answered.Kim Caravaggi

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For instance, what effect will wallabies have on the native flora? Do they carry non-native diseases? And are they breeding?

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The researchers would love to research the population more closely to find out what long-term influence the wallabies will have on Britain’s ecosystems.

Read more animal stories here.

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