Isle of Man highlights – (2) Wallabies gone walkabout!

One of the unexpected pleasures of a visit to the Isle of Man is the opportunity to see wild wallabies without all the expensive and tedious nonsense that is inevitable when flying from the UK to Australia. Native to temperate areas of eastern Australia, the Red-necked Wallaby – a.k.a. the Bennett’s Wallaby – was a familiar sight when we visited Tasmania in 2016. Amazingly, it’s also thriving on Mann, a small island in the middle of the Irish Sea between England and Ireland, around 15,000 km from its ancestral home.

Technically, the Manx wallabies aren’t wild but feral, being descended from captive animals which escaped from Curragh Wildlife Park on the north of Mann towards the end of the last century. The first escape happened in 1965:

“The first wallaby to escape from there was Wanda who escaped the first year the park opened. She wandered around the island for a year, true to her name, and returned apparently of her own accord a year later,”

Paige Havlin, quoted in Lucy Quaggin: Living In The Wild On The Isle Of Man, Huffington Post (Australian edition) 07/03/2017.

A pair of wallabies is reported to have escaped at some point in the 1970s, and in 1985 there was a mass breakout. In a daring exploit reminiscent of captured British servicemen escaping Nazi POW camps in World War 2, no fewer than eight animals are said to have dug their way under the fence, and disappeared into the swampy, wooded area surrounding the Park (curragh is Gaelic for willow scrub, the predominant vegetation type here.)

Seven were eventually recaptured, but the eighth remained at large. Maybe it joined up with 1970s escapees or their descendants, or perhaps with other intrepid adventurers that made successful but unreported bids for freedom? And in 1989 there appears to have been another sizeable escape, when storms brought down a tree that smashed part of the fence surrounding the wallabies’ enclosure.

I can only conclude that, in the Park’s early days, security was somewhat lax. Or to put it less charitably, the place leaked wallabies like water through a sieve.

The exact sequence of events will never be known for certain – and some of the accounts noted above definitely seem more fanciful than believable! – but clearly over the years sufficient animals escaped from the Park to establish a sustainable breeding population. In true Aussie style, the wallabies have gone walkabout!

The Isle of Man has few native terrestrial mammals: no deer to compete with wallabies for food, and no large predators that would threaten them. The climate is also agreeable, being quite similar to that of Tasmania where the species thrives. Conditions appear ideal, and the wallabies have taken full advantage of it.

Numbers at large on the island are difficult to determine. The animals are mainly active at dusk and during the hours of darkness, when they graze on grasses, willow and young shrubs. Counting them is therefore an exercise in educated guesswork. The best estimate is somewhere around 150 animals, but who really knows?

Although they have begun to move south through the island, the wallabies remain concentrated close to their original point of origin – Curragh Wildlife Park – particularly in and around the Close Sartfield Nature Reserve.

Joey!

The Reserve comprises hay meadows, grassland, willow scrub, woodland and bog habitats, and between May and July is graced with thousands of colourful orchids. It forms part of the Ballaugh Curraghs, a wetland of international importance and designated Ramsar site. Birds love it and so, apparently, do wallabies.

During our 2018 trip to Mann we made two evening visits to the Close Sartfield Reserve, and as the light began to fade we were pleased to see a number of wallabies going about their business. We thought we’d be lucky to see them at all, but in the event they proved impossible to miss.

Some wallabies were partially hidden in the long meadow grass, watching us curiously as they grazed. Others, including a mother with a large joey in her pouch, hopped happily through the woodland, stopping occasionally to peer at us through the undergrowth. My YouTube video offers a glimpse of the youngster, and captures some of the other action we witnessed.

As we made our way through the Reserve another wallaby bounded across the board walk directly in front of us, and then stopped to browse contentedly on gorse bushes. It seemed totally unperturbed by our presence. I guess the animals have become conditioned to camera-touting humans, and take us in their stride.

The Aussie ex-pats have become unlikely island celebrities, and any visitor with an interest in wildlife wants to see them. During our second visit we saw evidence of this in the form of a professional camera crew cruising the paths through the Reserve, hoping to get perfect footage of the Isle of Man’s most exotic residents.

At the end of our second visit to Close Sartfield, as we returned to our car in the gathering gloom, we spotted a wallaby chewing enthusiastically on the grass strip running down the middle of the unsealed track that leads back to the main road. It was a surreal experience: where else in the British Isles would drivers find their journey interrupted by a masticating marsupial?

I’m sure that any Aussies reading this will wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, wallabies are common and considered unremarkable Down Under, impossible to miss but easy to ignore. However, here in the British Isles they are other-worldly beings, improbable and exotic creatures one never expects to encounter outside zoos and wildlife parks.

And what Brit doesn’t want a glimpse of the exotic, to bring colour and excitement to his otherwise dreary existence?

19 comments

  1. V · July 8, 2020

    Oh they’re so cute! I want to keep one as a pet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · July 9, 2020

      The young joeys – peering out at the world from the safety of mum’s pouch – are particularly adorable!

      Like

  2. T Ibara Photo · July 9, 2020

    What an interesting history they have on the Isle of Man! Amazing how they can not only adapt but even flourish.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · July 10, 2020

      I suspect this particular species of wallaby was stocked (if that’s the right word?) by the Wildlife Park because they’re known to be adaptable and resourceful, and therefore are likely to do well in captivity here. Like the mallard ducks of the marsupial world!

      Like

  3. tanjabrittonwriter · July 9, 2020

    As I have never visited Australia, I have only had the pleasure of seeing wallabies at zoos. It would be fascinating to run into them during a walk, the way you did. As you mentioned above, the joey peeking out of the pouch is especially endearing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · July 10, 2020

      The joeys are amazing. As they get older they venture outside mum’s pouch to explore, but if they get spooked they dash back to her and scramble into the pouch again, diving in head first then somersaulting (out of sight of the spectator) until they’re the right way up, at which point they stick their heads out again. We witnessed this once in Tasmania and we didn’t know whether to laugh or applaud…you couldn’t make it up 🙂🦘

      Like

  4. shazza · July 9, 2020

    I never knew about the Isle of Man wallabies. If I ever get there I will be sure to look them up. So cute.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · July 10, 2020

      As well as the wallabies and birds, the Isle of Man has plenty of great walks through pretty wooded glens, alongside babbling streams graced with the occasional crashing waterfall. I think you’d like it! 🙂

      Like

  5. ThoughtsBecomeWords · September 26, 2020

    Wow, thank you for that very interesting post. I did not know that some of our wallaby population had travelled so far from home! Also thank you for acknowledging their original homeland 🙂 I have read overseas blogs and wildlife posts which talk about our animals, birds or reptiles in zoos without acknowledging their true origins.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · September 26, 2020

      Hi. I’m shocked that anyone would not know, or would fail to acknowledge, where wallabies (or kangaroos or koalas) come from. Wacky, wonderful wildlife is one of the things for which Australia is world famous, alongside decent red wine and mesmerising leg spinners 🙂. And the friendly locals too, of course! I have very fond memories of our trip there – principally Tasmania – in 2016.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ThoughtsBecomeWords · September 30, 2020

    You made me smile, it is lovely to read such an enthusiastic comment 🙂 I can relate to the wacky, wonderful wildlife and cricket players but unfortunately I’m not a wine buff. However, Tassie is wonderful and getting more and more popular, including crime writing novelists using its rugged charms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · September 30, 2020

      Although the native wildlife and vegetation is very different, Tassie “felt” rather British…strange but true for an island that’s about as far away the UK as this planet can manage. We loved our time there, and also enjoyed Sydney.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. ThoughtsBecomeWords · September 30, 2020

    That’s good to read! After touring UK, I later visited New Zealand and felt a British vibe there but I’m not sure whether it’s the architecture or the landscapes. If you want something completely different when the world resumes, consider adding Queensland to your travel itinerary…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · September 30, 2020

      We were in NZ for seven weeks in 2019, leaving almost exactly 12 months ago (and missed getting incinerated by just a few weeks when White Island blew its top!) NZ does indeed have a British vibe, more even the Tassie; the architecture and landscapes are part of it, but the people seem more British and retain more interest in “the Old Country” than was evident in Oz. Maybe it’s got something to do with having Australia as a neighbour, and wanting to differentiate themselves from a society – indeed, a whole continent – which seems (and I hope you’ll forgive me when I say this 🙂) a bit brash and full of itself, a bit American its outlook? Whatever, we had a wonderful time in both countries, met some lovely people and accumulated lots of happy memories. We’d would love to do some return trips, but not sure what the future holds. These are unsettling times!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. ThoughtsBecomeWords · October 3, 2020

    It is a pleasure to read what I call a ‘proper’ comment, and your insights gave me food for thought. A most fortunate escape from White Island NZ. I recall standing amid bubbling mud springs in Rotorua wondering if it will eventually blow up. I too have noticed the Americanisation of Australia, which I deplore, and can only attribute it to internet infiltration in all walks of our lives which the Millennials seem to have embraced right down to the way they talk and behave. We are run by US-made computer programs, and Google, Microsoft and Amazon seem to dominate, making insidious changes to our business, education and community sectors. Even spelling and the way we write the date has changed and it is not generally acknowledged that we are a Commonwealth country and all that stands for. My consolation is that the further one travels from the cities, the more one meets genuine Aussies. I think the world will start up again – much wiser with regard to pandemics and handwashing – and tightly controlled overseas travel will resume.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 5, 2020

      Thank you. One of the things I most enjoy about blogging is the opportunity to share experiences and ideas with people I shall never meet and whose life may be very different from my own.
      Regarding Americanisation, I suspect the damage was done initially by Hollywood and American television output, which between them dominate broadcast media in the English-speaking world. I suspect many Brits know more about the USA than they do about their own country, albeit that what they know is the superficial, sanitised, slanted version portrayed in their programming. The internet reinforces the problem, providing platforms for creeping Americanisation. Maybe we’re all Americans now?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. ThoughtsBecomeWords · October 7, 2020

    Heaven forbid that should happen! But you are right about creeping Americanisation online. I think I have a chip on my shoulder because in most aspects there is a tendency for Americans to say “the world” when in fact they are only referring to the northern hemisphere and largely ignoring the southern hemisphere. I am so glad I come from a generation of students who learned geography and world history!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 7, 2020

      I can’t say I was specifically aware of an American fixation with the northern hemisphere, but I have found during my numerous visits over the years that many of the locals know almost nothing about life outside their own state, or in some cases their own county (apologies to any Americans reading this. You’re lovely people and I enjoy your company – and your pancakes – immensely, but worldly-wise many of you aren’t!)
      Interestingly, we’ve often been mistaken for Aussies when touring the States (“Gee guys, your accents are SO CUTE. You must be from Australia.”) Huh!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. ThoughtsBecomeWords · October 15, 2020

    I am stunned… so inward looking of them… best if I just nod in agreement…

    Liked by 1 person

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