It started with an escape. That much we know. However, like all good mysteries, the details of how and when the wallabies came to live in the wild on the Isle of Man are hazy.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appIt is thought that at some point, most likely during the Sixties or Seventies, a group of the springy marsupials made a bid for freedom from their enclosure at a wildlife park in the north of the island.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appHowever (and whenever) they escaped, fast-forward to 2020 and the Isle of Man has the largest wallaby population in the northern hemisphere. Paige Havlin from the University of Belfast wrote her thesis about the wallabies of the island, and is the best person to help get me started in unravelling the mystery.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“The wallabies escaped from the Curraghs Wildlife Park in Ballaugh in the north of the island,” she told me. “This opened in 1965 and there have been multiple recordings of wallaby escapes and sightings in historic newspaper reports.”
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appThe first wallaby to escape, she tells me, was shortly after the park opened. Named Wanda (suitably), it lived on the run for a year before returning to her enclosure. Then there’s another report from 1985 which mentions an escape of eight wallabies, seven of which were recaptured. But the exact date of when the Adam and Eve of the Isle of Man’s wallaby population got out is not entirely clear.
“The actual definitive major wallaby escape was, unfortunately, not reported in the papers. However, it’s likely that more escapes occurred which were not published in the media at the time.”
With that part of the mystery solved, if patchily, I have another question on my mind. Smaller than a kangaroo and more agile on their oversized feet, these marsupials are surely more accustomed to the warmer climes of eastern Australia and Tasmania. So how on earth have they managed to survive on the other side of the planet?
The success of the wild wallabies is largely down to the lack of predators or rivals on the island, Havlin tells me. There are no deer, foxes, badgers or squirrels. The weasel-like stoat lives here, as do hares and the odd goat, but they are hardly threats to the wallaby’s survival. And the climate of the Isle of Man, with its milder winters than the rest of the UK, is actually fairly similar to that of Tasmania, from where the red-necked animals originate.
So are they a welcome introduction to the island’s finely balanced ecology?
“The research I carried out suggests that wallabies are of benefit to the Isle of Man, as they are our largest grazing herbivores - other than livestock. They help create swards of grassland habitat for other flora and fauna,” Havlin said.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appThe wallabies are also unwittingly helping to prevent wildfires on the island. Havlin explains: “Dietary analysis shows they eat common grass and sedge species, and video and faecal analysis shows them actually eating gorse. Although gorse is great for invertebrates and birds, when left uncontrolled it can take over a habitat and become a fire hazard.”
But local resident and wildlife guide John Callister, an expert on the northerly Curragh region, tells me the presence of wallabies isn’t welcomed by all. “To some people, mainly the farmers, they can be a problem. They will graze pasture and crops but they also carry diseases that can be transferred, in particular, to horses. To the general public, however, they are great and the groups I take around all think that they are wonderful.”
With no predators on the island and no cull in place, the wallabies have thrived to a number thought to be between 120 to 150. However, Callister tells me that a number of the population are blind. “There must be something that causes it, be it inbreeding or a lack of something in their diet, but some of them are blind. They seem to survive well and it isn’t a problem but occasionally there is a body to be seen in a trench the runs through the Curragh.”
So where is the best place to see a wallaby on the Isle of Man? “My favourite spot is the Curraghs - located directly behind the wildlife park in Ballaugh or Close Sartfield on the site of the Manx Wildlife Trust,” Havlin tells me. “They are crepuscular, meaning the best time to see them is dawn and dusk when they are most active. I would aim to be out just before sunset.”
So prevalent are the wallabies on the Isle of Man that local wildlife experts and commissioners have recently called for road signs to be introduced to help “stop the element of surprise” for motorists after a string of traffic incidents.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appLocal police have been called out on nine occasions in the past five years, according to data obtained by the BBC. One incident involving a wallaby caused a couple to swerve off the road and into a wall. There have been a number of other incidents which involved collisions, while wallaby carcasses have been reported on Manx roads.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appPaige Havlin is one of those lobbying for the new signs. “It’s more to raise awareness of their presence,” she tells me. “A wallaby would be the last thing that a tourist would be expecting to see on the Isle of Man. People need to be aware that they may be out on the roads if they are driving in the early hours and they should keep to a safe speed.”
So what does the future hold for the wallabies of the Isle of Man? “They have a healthy population, there are no natural predators on the island, and they have been established for many years now,” Havlin tells me. “It looks like they're here to stay.”