Life on land
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Life on land
ABOVE: A young Eastern Grey Kangaroo suckles from its mother.
The pouch of Macropods opens forwards (the pouch of Wombats opens backwards) and has four teats. Only one young is born at a time and the presence of that young in the pouch causes embryonic diapause, whereby a second fertilised egg ceases to develop until close to the time that the pouch joey vacates the pouch.
“Although I knew roughly what to expect the whole performance was one of the most miraculous and incredible things that I have ever seen in all the years that I have been watching animals. The baby was, to all intents and purposes an embryo. It had in fact been born after a gestation period of only 33 days. It was blind and its hind legs, neatly crossed over each other, were powerless, yet in this condition the young animal had been expelled into the world. As if this was not enough of a handicap, it now had to climb up through the fur of Pamela's stomach until it found the entrance to the pouch. This was really the equivalent of a blind man with both legs broken crawling through thick forest, to the top of Mount Everest”. Gerald Durrell, 1965
The Australian Museum describes the complexity of this process:
"The situation is complicated by the fact that a young Macropod does not cease to suckle immediately after leaving the pouch. Weaning extends over several weeks during which the young at-foot-joey suckles by inserting its head into the pouch".
The mere 'embryo', as Gerry Durrell described it, attaches itself to a small teat, not the extended teat used by the more mature joey, so both 'embryo' and at-foot-joey are feeding from the pouch and doing so with very different nutritional requirements.
The Museum goes on to describe this relationship:
"It is extremely unusual for a mammal to cope with two sucking young at very different ages and the situation is even more remarkable in that the mammary glands supplying each of the two functioning teats, produce milk of quite different composition".
This means that the reproduction rate of this group of animals is SLOW.
The Swamp Wallaby (or Black Wallaby) Wallabia bicolor has a significant distribution in forests and heathlands, particularly in places where vegetation is dense, stretching from Cape York in the north along the east coast and all the way to south-west Victoria. The species is now missing from South Australia (or extremely rare). Unlike the Eastern Grey Kangaroo, the Swamp Wallaby is a solitary animal which may join other Wallabies when feeding. It is however vulnerable, despite its small body size, to the expansion of the commercial wildlife trade (for pet food) because it shares habitat with other Macropod species including the Eastern Grey Kangaroo, as indeed it did on our own conservation property in Victoria (now lost).
Gestation is around 36 days with pouch life lasting around nine months, once it has left the pouch the single joey remains milk dependent to around 15 months of age. Males weigh around 17 kilograms and females around 13 kilograms. Its preferred diet is shrub grazing.
The species is the sole remaining member of the genus Wallabia. The Swamp Wallaby is a beautiful animal and we love to be with them.
The Red-necked Wallaby Macropus rufogriseus is larger than the Swamp Wallaby, males weigh around 19 kilos, females around 14 kilos. Young continue to be milk dependant for up to 17 months. Its distribution includes subtropical eastern Queensland, eastern New South Wales, southern parts of Victoria crossing the border into South Australia (Macropus rufogriseus banksianus). A sub-species also remains in Tasmania Macropus rufogriseus rufogriseus. The Tasmanian sub-species has longer and denser fur and a defined breeding season.
The Red-necked Wallaby is also a solitary animal, which joins other Wallabies to graze. It is a forest and heathland species where there is both cover from shrubs and access to native grasses. In contemporary circumstances where much of the heathland and forests have been destroyed, the Red-necked Wallabies tend to aggregate at the edge of remnant forests to graze. This makes this species particularly vulnerable to commercial hunting (pet food). The species has been subject to commercial exploitation in Queensland and Tasmania. Tasmania continues to slaughter Wallabies in large numbers. Again these are very beautiful and gentle animals that deserve safety and peace, far from the fear and cruelties to which they are subjected.
Birth weight is less than 1 gram with young beginning to look out of the pouch at the outside world at around six months. The young then leave the pouch for the first time at around 7 months old, returning to the pouch after brief excursions until they are nine months old, continuing to suckle up to 17 months of age.
On mainland Australia, female Red-necked Wallabies can give birth at any time of year. In Tasmania (M. r. rufogriseus) this differs with the birthing season occurring between late January and July. The Tasmanian subspecies therefore has dual control of embryonic diapause i.e. season and life cycle stage of existing pouch joey.
Life expectancy is around 5 years.
The habitat of both Wallaby species was severely impacted in the eastern states by the wildfires of the 2019-20 Australian summer, with significant numbers of these animals likely to have died in the fires. In a country where wildlife is far from safe, sadly, three Wallaby species are now being exploited commercially, these are the Tammar Wallaby, the Red-necked Wallaby and the Tasmanian Pademelon or Rufous Wallaby. The Swamp Wallaby and the Whiptail Wallaby were also exploited commercially. Wallabies are of particular risk of commercial exploitation for pet food and other purposes as the larger Kangaroo species dwindle in number across the Australian Continent and do so as a result of a sustained and unrelenting slaughter. Smaller members of the Kangaroo family have also been particularly vulnerable to habitat loss as forest and denser bush are cleared for development or agriculture.