A Picture is all that is to remain: The woe of the Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby

Among the various hot topics in our Conservation Science Mid-Term Conference, the plight of the Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby hopped into our midst through the presentation of our fellow classmate Gergana Daskalova.

This uniquely colourful marsupial makes its home in the Australian Outback, an arid/semi-arid region covering most of the Australian Continent, with conditions that people would think twice to settle in. Yet, the Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby has lived here for over 8000 years (if the indigenous rock paintings are anything to go by) and have been contributing to their natural habitat through seed dispersal and selective grazing. Currently, they are being used by to study species evolution and development.

Sadly, the Wallaby has fallen in harsh times. Human encroachment has led to the destruction of 50% of its habitat. This, along with human activities like hunting and the introduction of exotic competitors and predators, has led to the annihilation of about a third of their population. Two of the surviving Wallaby populations are considered endangered (in New South Wales) and vulnerable (in South Australia) while there is relatively no information on the third population (in Queensland).

The only Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby populations left in Australia

These surviving Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby populations are currently isolated from one another and thus are prone to inbreeding. To top it all off, due to these various threats, the Wallaby will be vulnerable to environmental catastrophes as well as to the effects of climate change.

Thankfully, these troubling signs have not gone unnoticed. Conservation programs have been initiated to control feral animals, revegetate land using native pants and providing ample amount of food and shelter for the remaining Wallabies. Even the indigenous people have been brought into the equation as ranger to protect the lands occupied by the Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby. The involvement of ‘Indigenous rangers’ is believed to be the only conservation strategy with lasting positive outcomes for both the Australian outback biodiversity and the welfare of the natives.

But even with all these conservation efforts, the Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby is still under threat of extinction. One can only hope that the rock paintings, nature photographs and current airline and sports team logos will not be all that is left of these stunning marsupials.

These should not be all that is left of the Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby

By Manjari Misra

References:

Johnson, C. (2006). Australia’s mammal extinctions: a 50,000-year history. New York, Cambridge University Press.

Hornsby, P. (1997). Possible causes of mortality in the yellow-footed rock-wallaby, Petrogale xanthopus Gray (Marsupialia: Macropodidae). Australian Mammalogy 19, 245-248.

Robinson, C. J., & Wallington, T. J. (2012). Boundary work: engaging knowledge systems in co-management of feral animals on Indigenous lands. Ecology and Society 17, 16.

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