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Bennett’s Wallaby

Bennett’s kangaroo, also called Bennett’s wallaby, is a marsupial from the kangaroo family. It is a medium-sized mammal whose body length is 70–90 cm. Its tail, which supports the body, is 65–75 cm long. The body is covered with fur: reddish on the head, back and sides, grey and whitish on the belly. The upper part of the snout and the ends of ears and paws are black. Sometimes albino wallabies are born with white fur and red eyes (like the one on our coin). As in all kangaroos, their front legs are visibly shorter than the hind legs. They have elongated feet, and the fourth digit is longer than all other digits. Wallabies’ body mass ranges between 13 and 19 kg, although males can weigh up to 25 kg.

Bennett’s wallabies are found mainly in Australia and Tasmania. There have been several attempts to acclimatise the species in New Zealand – the first successful one was carried out in the years 1867–1870. In Europe, feral or stray Bennett’s wallabies (usually from private and public zoos) make up a constant though small population in Great Britain (the oldest groups derive from the wallabies that strayed in 1920). A group of approximately 30 kangaroos lives in the wild 50 km west of Paris – they are the descendants of wallabies from one of the zoos, that escaped after a hurricane in the 1970s. Before 1945, the Bennett’s wallabies were kept half-wild in France and the Sudetes (today’s Poland), but their acclimatisation was not successful.

Bennett’s wallabies found in Tasmania are slightly smaller than those living in Australia and behave differently (they form a different sub-species). The former have adapted to living close to humans. They can sometimes be seen grazing at lawns in the suburbs. Generally, wallabies tolerate different habitats. In Australia, they prefer eucalyptus forests with medium floors, on high heaths, close to open spaces. They adapt to the Polish climate quite easily. In captivity, wallabies can spend mild winters in open pens.

Wallabies are typical herbivores, they feed on grass and leaves (in captivity they enjoy vegetables as well). During drought periods, they eat juicy roots to supplement water. They are nocturnal animals that can also be seen in the early morning and late afternoon. They spend the day sleeping in hiding.

Wallabies are not territorial. When threatened, they stomp their feet loudly to let other animals know danger is coming. Wallabies have excellent hearing and sight, they also jump and swim very well.

They reach sexual maturity at the age of two. A pregnancy usually lasts 30 days, but it can be extended as at the early stage the embryo may stop growing until the young from the previous litter leaves the pouch. A female gives birth to one young that is the size of a peanut (and weighs less than 1 g). Right after birth, the young struggles its way to the pouch on the mother’s belly. The young’s eyes open 135–150 days after birth. The young stays in the pouch for nine months, but it is fed for several more months, sometimes even up to the 17th month.

I n Australia, the species reproduces throughout the year; in other regions (e.g. in Tasmania) young are delivered once in a year. When the young is female, it can stay with the mother for life, but when it is male, it is cared for until the age of two and then moves to another place. In captivity, wallabies live to be 15, in the wild they are reported to live even until the age of 20.

Sheep and cattle keepers usually consider Bennett’s wallabies as pests. For that reason the wallabies used to be killed when spotted near farms. In Tasmania, hunting for wallabies for their attractive fur and meat is still permitted, although to a limited extent. They may also be shot as pests damaging pastures and fields. In Europe, dogs and foxes kill young wallabies and sometimes the latter die in car accidents.

Wallabies are solitary animals. When seen in couples, it is usually a mother and her young. Sometimes, there are two adults (female and male) attracted to each other – in such cases, they stay together for up to 24 hours. Later, both go their separate ways. Wallabies form loose groups only when food is in abundance. Their population in Tasmania and Australia has been increasing significantly. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the population is not at risk and is considered stable.

Professor Wiesław Bogdanowicz
Museum and Institute of Zoology of the Polish Academy of Sciences