Wild wallabies moved to secret safe location in Far North Queensland project

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It’s 3 a.m. in a pitch-black field and a group of people are talking in low voices while donning motorcycle jackets and red headlights.

A rescue is underway.

Breaking into a run, the team almost silently heads for a web trap on the ground.

With military precision, the trap is opened and a squirming wallaby is pulled out, dropped into a canvas bag, and hurried back to another group waiting outside a van.

He is tagged, weighed, medicated, checked for joeys and secured in the van before the group turns around and moves on to the next trap.

Unsustainable population

In what is one of Australia’s largest macropod relocations, since April 2021 nearly 800 agile wallabies (Macropus agilis) were moved from the sports fields north of Cairns to a new secret house 80 kilometers away.

The leader of the group, conservationist Shai Ager, said it was no longer possible for the animals to live safely in their Trinity Beach home.

Each wallaby is weighed, tagged, medicated and checked before being secured for transport.(ABC Far North: Holly Richardson)

She said the development had reduced the area in which the wallabies lived and foraged, forcing them to venture into nearby streets and courtyards, as well as increasing their numbers at the local sports ground.

“These animals have what’s called embryonic diapause; they can choose when to have their babies,” Ms Ager said.

“They think these are good conditions because they’re eating this perfect grass. They’re not.”

Ms Ager said there were not enough resources on the fields to sustain the population, which at its peak in 2018 was around 12,000.

“In the past 12 months, 700 people have been killed by cars or dogs,” she said.

“On the way to the relocation, I removed dead bodies from the side of the road.

“We have rescuers who are sent out every day, and we’re working with corpse after corpse to try and save these little joeys.”

A group of wallabies gather near a fence on a sports field
The wallaby population at Trinity Beach has exploded, with many congregating on sports fields.(ABC Far North: Holly Richardson)

When the community group Agile Project originally proposed the relocation project, it was rejected by the Queensland Government who argued that the relocation could unnecessarily harm the animals.

Ms. Ager and The Agile Project appealed the decision and took it to the State Administrative Court.

The three-year battle was ultimately won by the wildlife group.

In May 2020, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Court ordered the Department of Environment and Science to allow the animals to move from the park where they were at risk of being run over by cars or attacked by domestic dogs.

A wallaby's nose sticks out of a canvas bag, two hands reach out, the scene is dark and lit only by red light
The wallabies are carried in bags and trapped before dawn to reduce the animal’s distress.(ABC Far North: Holly Richardson)

Today, the project has the support of state and local governments as well as a team of volunteers.

After releasing several of today’s wallabies, wildlife keeper Alison James stands with the other volunteers cradling several cloth pouches, the nearly hairless noses and ears of the exiting wallaby joeys.

“It means a lot to me to be involved in the relocation because it’s a side of them that’s just taking care of the babies whose mothers have been killed, but that’s just completely different.” she declared.

“The more you move, the fewer people are at risk of getting hit by cars or attacked by dogs.”

A woman stands in a field, holding three baby wallaby joeys, bundled in cloth pouches
Alison James has cared for hundreds of baby wallabies orphaned by car crashes and dog attacks.(ABC Far North: Holly Richardson)

She said the three joeys she had with her were orphaned after their mothers were killed in car crashes.

Walla-paradise

The land where the wallabies are released has been carefully selected by conservationists and is managed by Humane Society International.

Programs manager Evan Quartermain said the former sugar cane farm was in the middle of a national park and was being restored in the bush.

“We already knew there were agile wallabies here but, with the open nature of the site at the moment, it has fantastic carrying capacity and is very suitable for these agile wallabies,” he said.

A man in a heavy yellow motorcycle jacket, headlamp and thick gloves adjusts his sleeve
Volunteers capturing wallabies wear thick protective clothing to protect their skin and eyes from the animal’s sharp claws.(ABC Far North: Holly Richardson)

Off the ground, he said the best part was the lack of human impact through car strikes, dogs and human harassment.

“Here there is no one around and they can just live the life they were meant to live,” he said.

Ms Ager said seeing the animals out into the bush, seen on camera traps, was worth the effort and early mornings.

A wallaby jumps towards the camera, people are crouched behind holding a release bag
It is hoped that the wallabies’ new location will support a healthier population and keep them away from threats.(ABC Far North: Holly Richardson)

“It’s a pretty incredible experience and seeing them run away today and all these days is definitely another huge motivation for me,” she said.

“We call this walla-paradise because it’s really beautiful compared to what they lived in.”

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