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Black Wallaroo.
Photo: Chris Johnson

September 5, 2001
The Black Wallaroo
  Real Audio

Log Transcript

The variety and diversity of Australia's wildlife is a natural reflection of a tremendous range of habitats and climate. The animals that live here have evolved in complete isolation, free from the influence of other landmasses for close to 45 million years. As a result, the animals of Australia are among the most distinctive in the world.

The most instantly recognisable of Australia's native species is undoubtedly the kangaroo and its smaller relative, the wallaby - a group collectively known as macropods. These creatures belong to a family of mammals called marsupials. What makes them unique is that the female can effectively maintain three offspring at various stages of development at any one time if food is plentiful. The young are born in an immature state, barely more than an embryo, which makes its way up to the mothers pouch. In addition, the mother may also be carrying a fully developed juvenile nicknamed a 'joey' as well as with a dormant embryo. If enduring a significant period of drought, this group of animals have developed a technique called 'embryonic diapause'. The female has the ability to halt milk production and her pouch young dies.

There are currently 40 living members of the macropod family, thirty eight in Australia and two in Papua New Guinea. The name is derived from two Greek words meaning 'big footed'. This highly successful marsupial mammal has evolved into multiple species, varying in size and shape depending upon their habitat. This ranges from arid outback desert and bushland, to grasslands, wet forests, rocky escarpments and even treetops. Macropods vary in size from the magnificent 85kg Red kangaroo, to the little Parma wallaby, which weighs in at a mere 4 kg.

Black Wallaroo.
Photo: Chris Johnson

Today while visiting one of the many parks here in the 'top end', we were very fortunate to spot a Black Wallaroo. A wallaroo is generally larger than a wallaby and is closer in size to a smaller kangaroo. The distinction between a wallaroo and a kangaroo is predominantly due habitat. Kangaroos prefer flat land, while wallaroos prefer rocky, mountainous terrain. The Black Wallaroo is the smallest and stockiest of the wallaroo group. We only learned after our sighting, that this animal is found in a very small area where it inhabits rocky escarpments and plateaus. The isolated and rugged nature of its habitat and its nocturnal behaviour mean that it is rarely seen.

Since the arrival of Europeans, some of the larger macropods have benefited from human activities such as the suppression of dingoes, the clearing of trees and the provision of water in dry areas. Unfortunately other species have been driven to local or countrywide extinction due to the clearing of vegetation as well as introduced grazing and predatory species. Enormous numbers of kangaroos and wallabies are shot annually due to increasing numbers, they are also viewed as pests that compete with farmed species and in recent years have grown in popularity as a food source. Fortunately the Black Wallaroo is rarely hunted due to it shy nature and isolated home.

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Northern Territory.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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