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Wild wallabies in the UK

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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I haven’t had time to provide answers on the previous article, sorry about that. Busy with preparation for the International Symposium on Pterosaurs, this year being held in Rio. Purely for the sake of adding something new (TetZoo podcast followers will understand the motivation, I hope), here’s some recycled text from Tet Zoo ver 2 (though with new pictures). Enjoy!

Reclining Bennett's wallabies at Marwell Wildlife, UK. Photo by Darren Naish.

People outside of the UK – and even many of those within it – are often totally unaware of the several wallaby colonies that Britain has or, at least, had until recently. The animal in question is Bennett’s wallaby Macropus rufogriseus rufogriseus, the Tasmanian subspecies of the Red-necked wallaby (the subspecies of mainland Australia is M. r. banksianus). Bennett’s wallaby has been introduced all over the place in the UK, including on Herm in the Channel Islands, in the Weald in south-east England, and also in northern England and Scotland. The biggest colony lives within the grounds of Whipsnade Wild Animal Park (formerly Whipsnade Zoo) in Bedfordshire and is said to have been the source of colonies introduced elsewhere. A colony in Staffordshire mostly died out during the harsh winter of 1962-63 (but were just about still going as recently as the 1990s). The Inconnachan Island* colony started out in 1975 and apparently persists.

* Inconnachan Island is in the huge Loch Lomond, central Scotland.

An especially 'well insulated' Bennett's wallaby, photographed at New Forest Wildlife Park back in 2007. Photo by Darren Naish.

Members of the famous Peak District (Derbyshire) colony – first introduced during the 1940s – haven’t been seen since 2000 and are now thought extinct. Yalden (1988) showed that the wallabies suffered badly from domestic dog harassment and also frequently ended up as roadkill: from a maximum of 50 animals in 1960 they were down to two by 2000.

Because Bennett’s wallaby is widely kept in animal collections, and because they seem to be pretty good at escaping, random individuals are reported from all over the country on occasion. The fact that Bennett’s wallaby comes from Tasmania (and has a distinct breeding season) means that it is preadapted for the British climate. Well, more preadapted than any other wallaby anyway.

For previous Tet Zoo stuff on macropods, see…

Refs – -

Yalden, D. 1988. Feral wallabies in the Peak District, 1971-1985. Journal of Zoology 215, 369-374.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. BizarreZooJay 6:55 am 05/21/2013

    Interesting…if some populations of wallabies are surviving the climate of the UK, maybe some escaped panthers can to. Didn’t someone photograph a piebald wallaby recently? Looked like a very interesting and beautiful specimen.

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  2. 2. Fanandala 8:55 am 05/21/2013

    That piebald wallaby turned out to be a kid in a dalmation suit.

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  3. 3. Fanandala 8:57 am 05/21/2013

    Well, that is what the taxidermist told me anyway.

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  4. 4. Dartian 9:57 am 05/21/2013

    Bennett’s wallaby Macropus rufogriseus rufogriseus”

    Macropus should probably be split into several genera. Dawson & Flannery (1985) suggested that the red-necked wallaby, and a few of its relatives, should be placed in the genus Notamacropus*.

    *’Nota’ refers to stripe/striped, but the name is also a pun: ‘not a Macropus‘ – geddit? ;)

    they seem to be pretty good at escaping

    It probably helps that they are frequently allowed to roam semi-freely in many zoos.

    The fact that Bennett’s wallaby comes from Tasmania (and has a distinct breeding season) means that it is preadapted for the British climate.

    Red-necked/Bennett’s wallabies also live (or lived) feral in a few other places in Europe, such as the Forest of Rambouillet in northern France.


    Dalmatian. And with a capital ‘D’ – the breed’s name refers to a geographical location (the region of Dalmatia, Croatia).

    Dawson, L. & Flannery, T. 1985. Taxonomic and phylogenetic studies of living and fossil kangaroos and wallabies of the genus Macropus Shaw (Macropodidae: Marsupialia), with a new subgeneric name for the larger wallabies. Australian Journal of Zoology 33, 473-498.

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  5. 5. BrianL 11:47 am 05/21/2013

    I find those feral wallabies a very interesting phenomenon. I wonder though, did the Derbyshire inability to deal with domestic dog harassment and cars suggest that a) dogs are dangerous to any population of the species, b) wallabies are extremely vulnerable to ending up as roadkill, c) wallabies can actually deal with dogs and becoming roadkill, if their population is only large enough or c) any combination of or d) none of the above?
    Personally, I’ve had these moments when I’ve wondered how competitive kangaroos (especially of the large kind) might be in, say, the Serengeti. Large kangaroos don’t strike me as particularly vulnerable to predation, droughts, coarse nutrition or any of the other factors I could think of that might jeopardise their existence alongside modern placentals. I could well be overlooking something, of course.
    Speaking of which, what native Australian species (taking pre-human times as starting point) would have the largest chance to survive and do well once Australia collides with Eurasia? To me, large kangaroos seem among the best candidates. Any others?

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  6. 6. Dartian 12:50 pm 05/21/2013

    what native Australian species (taking pre-human times as starting point) would have the largest chance to survive and do well once Australia collides with Eurasia?

    My guess would be the short-beaked echidna. It is already the most widespread and ecologically adaptable native land mammal in Australasia, occurring almost everywhere on the Australian continent (and in Tasmania and New Guinea too).

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  7. 7. tai haku 2:52 pm 05/21/2013

    Seeing Herm as I do daily I can’t believe the colony there was ever truly self-sustaining; it’s absolutely tiny.

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  8. 8. Jerzy v. 3.0. 3:27 pm 05/21/2013

    Anybody knows why kangaroos are much worse than placentals in avoiding cars? Wild ones in Australia will hop totally carelessly right in front of a car. Something to do with position of the eyes, or innate flight response?

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  9. 9. Jerzy v. 3.0. 3:37 pm 05/21/2013

    It will happen in what – 40 million years in future, when wildlife will have a long history of coexistence with human civilization and future Australia will be in equatorial wet tropics.

    Future Australian wildlife will rather not be similar to the today animals. But future platypus is also likely, because I can’t think of any Asian mammal which dives for water invertebrates. Sugar glider is another mammal which seems not to have ecological competitors in Asia. Cuscuses thrive alongside placentals in Sulawesi. Cassowaries are also adaptable and not an easy prey. It seems that Komodo dragon already made its move from Australia to Lesser Sundas.

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  10. 10. Tayo Bethel 7:08 pm 05/21/2013

    Would quolls be able to survivein theUK?

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  11. 11. Christopher Taylor 8:32 pm 05/21/2013

    Anybody knows why kangaroos are much worse than placentals in avoiding cars?

    At least part of the reason has to be simply because kangaroos are just plain dumb. There’s a reason why the makers of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo had to use that horrifying marionette corpse for the trick segments.

    Also, macropods do have a tendency to try and run along roads rather than jumping directly off them when traffic comes along. Presumably their way of movement makes it easier for them to move along cleared tracks than pushing through scrub (and a large part of Australia is scrubby rather than open). I can say from experience that it is incredibly frustrating to be crawling along at a walking place while a boodie is insisting on running down the road ahead of you rather than just getting to one side. This tendency to use roads may also explain one of the other factors in their poor road safety record: their habit of seemingly waiting on the side of the road then hurling themselves at you just as you pass by.

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  12. 12. vdinets 10:33 pm 05/21/2013

    I had similar experiences with placentals a few times. Once in Chic-Chock Mts. a young moose kept running in front of the car for at least a mile. Other geniuses included porcupines, various lagomorphs and even a wolf. I think the reason this happens is that the headlights create kind of a tunnel with dark “walls” and brightly lit central path.

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  13. 13. Habibi 9:25 am 05/22/2013

    To BrianL: both a) and b). Dogs are a big problem for all macropods (not just that particular species) and for a variety of reasons, macropods are also vulnerable to becoming roadkill.
    As for which Australian native species would survive in Europe, you only need to visit an Australian suburb to see what is thriving. Larger kangaroos (Macropus fuliginosus, M. giganteus) will do fine where there are expanses of grass (e.g. golf courses). Common brushtailed possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) adapt readily to life in the ‘burbs, and even cities, so long as there are trees around. See how they’ve become a pest in New Zealand, where they were introduced.
    You also have a selection of wily Australian birds to choose from; crows, magpies, pigeons, noisy miners and even some of the cockatoos might be able to make a go of life as a European.
    To Jerzy: Cassowaries are highly susceptible to dog attack and roadkill, so much so that they are now endangered in far north Qld (the only place in Australia where they still exist). Perhaps you meant Emu? Now there’s a tough bird.

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  14. 14. Heteromeles 10:40 am 05/22/2013

    With deer and squirrels, I’ve often found that flickering the lights (momentarily going to high beam a couple of times) or beeping the horn are useful ways to break their road trance. Don’t know if this will work with macropods, but it’s worth varying the stimuli to get them to “snap out” and take proper evasive action.

    I’d also add that the best thing I’ve found for chasing deer out of a yard (especially a yard with a slope or other tricky footing) is to find two strobing flashlights that have different strobing frequencies. The lights don’t even have to be strong (I used a headlamp and a flashlight that both had strobe settings, and two brands had different strobe frequencies). It was quite disorienting, even for the two people holding the lights, and the combination of flashing lights and noise from people scared off deer that otherwise weren’t interested in leaving the yard. This was during a drought, and the yard had been freshly watered.

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  15. 15. John Scanlon FCD 11:05 am 05/22/2013

    Some of those places in the UK should also have a colony of cancer-free Sarcophilus; they’re very good at cleaning up roadkilled Bennett’s wallabies, and Tasmania may need the devils back by the time this disease has burned out.

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  16. 16. Jerzy v. 3.0. 3:10 pm 05/22/2013

    I had similar experiences, too. Once we saw European Woodcock feeding on road at night and it kept taking off and land again in the middle of the road.

    But numbers of roadkilled kangaroos in Australia are enormous – far above all deer and suchlike I saw anywhere else.

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  17. 17. Mark Robinson 3:54 am 05/23/2013

    what native Australian species … would have the largest chance to survive and do well once Australia collides with Eurasia?

    Either of the two large ‘roos (red/grey) – yeah, possums – sure, but if we’re not confining ourselves to marsupials then the answer is, and always will be, a rat. Either the bush rat (Rattus fuscipes) or swamp rat (R. lutreolus), or whatever they will have evolved into by then.

    I think BrialL was initially only considering placental/marsupial competition but Habibi has also mentioned a few birds that would prob do ok, altho’ mynahs and rock doves/pigeons are not native to Aus (guess they will be in 40my). I’d add Rainbow Lorikeets which are happily displacing native birds here in the West as well as in New Zealand.

    We’ve also got some mean-bastard ants that could prob hold their own against anything.

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  18. 18. Christopher Taylor 4:45 am 05/23/2013

    Miners are not the same birds as mynahs, and yes, miners are both native to Australia and quite abundant in urban areas where they’re found.

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  19. 19. Christopher Taylor 4:47 am 05/23/2013

    This is a miner, a species of honeyeater.

    This is a mynah, a species of starling.

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  20. 20. Christopher Taylor 4:50 am 05/23/2013

    There are also plenty of native Australian pigeons, some of which are also doing well in urban areas (the crested pigeon comes to mind as a particular example).

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  21. 21. Zoovolunteer 2:45 pm 05/23/2013

    I think Rainbow Lorikeets (or at least various subspecies) are already spread throughout Indonesia, so in a sense they have jumped the gun by 40my. Given that I understand most of the oscine passerines seem to be rooted in Australasia, could you say the same about them as well?

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  22. 22. Habibi 9:01 pm 05/23/2013

    Thank you, Christopher Taylor, for clarifying. Of course I meant Noisy Miner (”Manorina melanocephala”, a honeyeater, NOT the Indian Mynah) and Crested Pigeon (”Ocyphaps lophotes”, a native Australian, NOT the introduced Rock Pigeon).

    While we’re at it, the magpie I was referring to is the Australian ”Cracticus tibicen” (NOT the European Magpie ”Pica pica”). And Australia has its own native crow and raven species, all of which would probably be happy forming gangs in European parkland.

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  23. 23. Dartian 1:28 am 05/24/2013

    I think Rainbow Lorikeets (or at least various subspecies) are already spread throughout Indonesia

    Throughout Indonesia? Do you have a source for that? I know that rainbow lorikeets occur natively in the western parts of New Guinea, which is geopolitically part of Indonesia (but biogeographically part of the Australasian Region), but I’ve not heard about them having become established in the Asian parts of Indonesia.

    More generally speaking: it’s fun to speculate about which Australian species would be able to establish themselves elsewhere in the world. But if we look at the actual real-world situation, which Australian vertebrates have successfully established themselves elsewhere? (By ‘established’ I mean having been able to form a substantial, self-sustaining and long-lasting population, and by ‘elsewhere’ I mean the other major continents – not New Zealand or Hawaii or other oceanic islands.)

    Off the top of my head, I can think of only two such examples – the red-necked wallaby which is the subject of the current article, and the budgerigar which did at least temporarily establish itself in Florida (but AFAIK does now seem to be on its way to become extinct there). Are there others?

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  24. 24. David Marjanović 9:40 am 05/24/2013

    News from today: macropod of undisclosed species roadkilled in Upper Austria.

    News from April 17th: two macropods of undisclosed species escaped in Lower Austria.

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  25. 25. Mark Robinson 12:20 am 05/25/2013

    @Habibi – apologies for misunderstanding you. My bad.

    @Christopher Taylor – thanks for clarifying. I love that I can learn almost as much from reading the comments at TetZoo as from the blog posts (this fact would be pretty amazing by itself but when you consider how information-dense Darren’s posts are, it’s doubly amazing).

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  26. 26. Zoovolunteer 5:02 am 05/25/2013

    I was a little out of date on the taxonomy of Rainbow Lorikeets. T.haematodus forms seem to be in Australia/ New Guinea. The very similar T.forsteri found in Bali and Flores among others has been split as a separate species, as has T.capistratus from Timor and Sumba

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  27. 27. vdinets 3:40 am 05/26/2013

    Marsupials of Australia are currently exposed to dingos, foxes, cats and rats. By the time Australia touches Asia, some will die out and others will adapt. So human introductions of placentals might serve as a vaccination of sort, giving the marsupials a chance to survive the future exposure to much higher placental diversity.

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  28. 28. BrianL 4:10 am 05/26/2013

    I hope you’re right about that. Obviously of course, there’s also that most dangerous and potentially destructive placental of all, humans. Which does make me wonder: Suppose the likes of dingos, cats, foxes, rats, camels, horses and all other introduced placentals had been introduced, but without humans settling and developing Australia. Would we have seen the same onslaught since the Pleistocene among most marsupials we do today or would they have done better overall? This question is probably impossible to answer without caveats, but I do think it’s an interesting question to ponder.
    I also think we shouldn’t forget that on the whole, the placentals we have brought to Australia are among the toughest, most adaptable and competitive. This might also skew the balance against marsupials who after all include(d) both competitive and ‘naive’ types, and more of the latter since they were also disadvantaged by being part of a largely isolated island community. Pitted against various other placentals that haven’t been introduced to Australia, marsupials might fare better.

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  29. 29. Dartian 7:37 am 05/26/2013

    the placentals we have brought to Australia are among the toughest, most adaptable and competitive

    And yet, being tough, adaptable, and competitive, and having a proven track record of being a successful invader in other parts of the world, is still not always enough.

    For example, the mongoose never became established in Australia – but that was not because people weren’t trying hard to make that happen. In the late 19th century, there was a deliberate plan to introduce the mongoose to Australia (to control rabbits) and large numbers were released into the wild in many parts of Australia. In some localities, literally hundreds (up to 700-800, in fact!) of individuals were released (Peacock & Abbott, 2010). But in spite of this substantial propagule size, the mongoose never became established in Australia and all introduced populations appear to have become quickly extinct (fortunately, one might add!).

    The point is that the reasons why some species become established in one part of the world but not in another are complex and not that well understood.

    Peacock, D. & Abbott, I. 2010. The mongoose in Australia: failed introduction of a biological control agent. Australian Journal of Zoology 58:205–227.

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  30. 30. Jerzy v. 3.0. 9:32 am 05/26/2013

    Sundas lorikeets were recently split, but they almost certainly come from AUstralian ancestors.

    I would add some small populations of Black Swans in Europe, budgerigars in USA, and several cockatoos in Taiwan and Singapore.

    Australia at the time of European colonization lost almost all megafauna and had vegetation changed by Aboriginal firestick farming. So in fact, it was heavily disturbed ecosystem already. Perhaps introduced mammals would be less successful against Australian giant herbivores and predators in native forest.

    Which brings another question – is there any discussion in Australia about conservation target – what is more natural: ecosystem before European man or ecosystem before Aboriginal man?

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  31. 31. Dartian 10:20 am 05/26/2013

    small populations of Black Swans in Europe, budgerigars in USA, and several cockatoos in Taiwan and Singapore

    How many of those populations are truly self-sustaining?

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  32. 32. David Marjanović 5:05 pm 05/26/2013

    I had no idea about the mongooses. Is it known what kept killing them off?

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  33. 33. Heteromeles 11:53 pm 05/26/2013

    @Jerzy: An ecosystem before Aboriginals is not attainable in Australia, any more than it is in America. Ignoring megafaunal extinctions in both cases, the evidence unequivocally says that humans had colonized both continents before the end of the last Ice Age.

    This is a problem, because there’s no way to disentangle vegetation and faunal changes caused by simple climate change, and vegetation and faunal changes caused by human action.

    I’m skeptical that Pre-Contact is a viable goal either, especially because (absent a miracle of carbon sequestration), we’re going to have to deal with 10,000-500,000 years of global warming. Minimizing the extinction rate is going to be tricky enough, without the added difficulty of setting the success criteria on a restoration target that’s less supported by the local climate than it was 500 years ago.

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  34. 34. Dartian 1:59 am 05/27/2013

    Is it known what kept killing them off?

    Nope. Some mongoose were accidentally killed in traps set for (ironically) rabbits; many people at the time thought that this was a factor that prevented the mongoose from becoming established. That alone seems like an insufficient reason, though (trapping certainly had a negligible effect on rabbit numbers!). Presumably the underlying reason is ecological; perhaps there is something in the contemporary Australian ecosystem that makes it unsutable for a small- to mid-sized terrestrial mammalian carnivore? It’s perhaps not just a coincide that another broadly ecomorphologically similar mammalian carnivore, the ferret, also seems to have a hard time at gaining a foothold in Australia. There have not been, at least not AFAIK, any systematic plans to introduce ferrets to Australia, but pet ferrets occasionally escape and may survive for some time in the wild – but, thus far at least, they have failed to form permanent populations (fortunately, one might add again).

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  35. 35. AlHazen 3:21 am 05/27/2013

    Re Dartian (32)–
    Survival skills of PET ferrets are limited: they don’t know how to hunt effectively. A friend in Melbourne was a member of the “ferret rescue society”: people would get tired of a ferret and let it loose in one of the larger city parks, someone else would find it starving and take it to the Lort Smith animal hospital, and the animal hospital would call my friend to take the (cleaned up and de-sexed) ferret, re-accustom it to domestic life, and try to find a loving home for it. Anyway, his view was that an ex-domestic ferret that didn’t get rescued had a limited life expectancy.

    Another failed introduction. Somebody, around start of 20th C, decided that possums weren’t enough and that Melbourne’s parks needed another (smaller and diurnal) cute furry. Introduced squirrels (American gray, Sciurus virginianus, I think). Apparently they lasted a few decades but have since died out.

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  36. 36. David Marjanović 9:47 am 05/27/2013

    This is a problem, because there’s no way to disentangle vegetation and faunal changes caused by simple climate change, and vegetation and faunal changes caused by human action.

    Well, there wasn’t any drastic climate change 50,000 years ago…

    perhaps there is something in the contemporary Australian ecosystem that makes it unsutable for a small- to mid-sized terrestrial mammalian carnivore?

    But what? It can’t be food if mongooses actually hunt rabbits.

    Introduced squirrels (American gray, Sciurus virginianus, I think). Apparently they lasted a few decades but have since died out.


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  37. 37. Heteromeles 10:26 am 05/27/2013

    @44: perhaps the answer to the problem is elapids? I’m not sure that tiger snakes and similar would register on either mongoose or squirrel radars as threatening until it was too late.

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  38. 38. Tayo Bethel 11:35 am 05/27/2013

    Perhaps the failure of the mongoose introduction had as much to do with behaviour as much as anything else. Mongooses and wedge-tailed eagles are both diurnal and with vegetative cover in short supply the mongooses may have been vulnerable to eagle predation. Add to that the fact that small rodents are more thinly distributed in Australia thanin either the mongoose’s native or most of itsintroduced range and it’sperhaps not surprising that mongooses fared badlyin Australia. Rodent specialists like ferrets would probably be equally hard put to survive in Australia All of the carnivores in Australia–native and introduced–are generalists.

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  39. 39. John Scanlon FCD 1:55 pm 05/27/2013

    I don’t think I’d heard of the mongoose introductions before, but had a look at the paper; comparing climatic envelopes for Australian localities with those of the natural range of Herpestes edwardsii, it so happens that ALL the introductions were in the less-suitable zones (mainly Victoria and southwestern NSW, and one odd ‘blue’ spot around Cairns in north Qld). This predicts that introductions in the Kimberley, Top End or Gulf savanna would have a better chance of ‘success’, so it’s a testable theory. Do mongooses eat toads…?
    I doubt it had to do with elapids. Mongooses are supposed to be rather good at those, and cobras aren’t all that much slower or less venomous than tigers and browns. OK, they are quite a bit slower and less venomous, but not exactly sluggish and harmless.
    ‘…vegetative cover in short supply…’ – at the time, there was a lot more mulga and mallee in the Murray basin than there is now. Even now it’s not all a howling desert, but still the main area of agricultural production in the continent, which is why farmers were worried about rabbits eating their crops and pastures.

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  40. 40. Pristichampsus 6:25 am 05/29/2013

    ALHazen: Don’t forget, certain suburbs near Perth Zoo are still home to populations of escaped Indian Palm Squirrels. They were originally introduced to the zoo grounds as free range animals, but spread to neighboring suburbs. The populations are large enough and notorious enough for the species to feature in field guides on Australian mammals.

    I have seen the species in cages at Taronga Zoo, it was good to finally see a squirrel, in fact, any small exotic mammal in an Australian Zoo. There are not so many small exotic mammals in Australian zoos now, which is a shame. The old guidebook for Adelaide zoo featured Armadillo, Loris, Bushbaby, etc, but these are all gone now. No new ones are brought in, doubtless because of the cost of importing animals, and also quarantine, as well as the possible threats they would pose if they became feral. The zoo was going to get Chevrotains almost 20 years ago, but quarantibne said they had too much potential at becoming a feral menace. The zoo had some lorises for ages, but they were never on display, and they eventually died. They are planning to get capybara, but that is hardly “small”.

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  41. 41. AlHazen 3:21 pm 05/29/2013

    Pristichampsus– The only Australian zoos I know are Melbourne (where the Meerkats are very popular) and a safari park near Werribee. I went to the latter with friends who were more familiar with Australia than I was shortly after I first went to Australia– one of them pointed to an animal in a pen and helpfully said “That’s a wombat.” I said “Hmmm… I didn’t realize that wombats’ snouts were quite so piglike,” and then we read the placard: it was a Collared Peccary.

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