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Kangaroo species of the month

Mareeba Rock-wallaby pouch young 
(Image: Michael Williams

North-east Queensland Rock-wallabies

  • The north-east Queensland Rock-wallabies are diverse and comprise a number of species that are described as parapatric (not-overlapping in distribution) and cryptic  (not obvious to tell apart). Three species - the Allied Rock-wallaby (Petrogale assimilis), the Mareeba Rock-wallaby (P. mareeba) and Sharman's Rock-wallaby (P. sharmani) - inhabit the ranges between Airlie Beach and Cairns. A quick inspection of picture-sharing web sites shows that the Mareeba Rock-wallaby is amongst the most photographed of the macropods. This is not surprising as there are several well-habituated populations in one of the most popular regions of Australia for domestic and international tourists alike.
Mareeba rock-wallabies being fed 
  • A significant part of the habituation process is hand-feeding by tourists at some sites. Food supplementation may be an interference in the natural population dynamics of a species with a benign or caring motive but detrimental consequences in the long-term. Wildlife Tourism Australia offers a well-considered policy on this issue - Tourist-wildlife Interactions. The policy concludes "In summary, interactions between tourists and wildlife can be valuable in fostering concern for wildlife among tourists, and provide much pleasure. However such opportunities need to be provided in such a way as to minimise negative effects on wild animals and ecosystems. " In the case of the Mareeba Rock-wallabies at 'Granite Gorge', daily provisioning by tourists has affected behaviour but not body condition relative to nearby colonies of wallabies reliant on a natural diet. The provisioned wallabies are more aggressive towards each other but also allo-groom (one individual grooming another) more. So there is both heightened competition (likely for the food supplements) and forms of conciliatory behaviour. This tension may explain why the hand-fed wallabies have not become 'fat'.
Mareeba rock-wallaby browsing 
(Image: Michael Williams
  • Whether you view these Rock-wallabies at a site of habituated individuals or chance upon them in more wild circumstances,  how do you know which species you are viewing? From their morphology (body appearance) you can be excused for being confused - all three look much the same. The species differences are subtle and found in their chromosomes which differ in number and/or shape (20 for both the Allied and Sharman's Rock-wallabies and 18 for the Mareeba Rock-wallaby). The best clue is to take out your GPS or map and confirm your location. South of Townsville and west out to Hughenden and north up to Croydon is the domain of the Allied Rock-wallaby. Sharman's Rock-wallaby is less dispersed in a tight cluster north-west of Townsville bounded by the Star River in the south and the Burdekin River to the north and west. Between the Herbert and Mitchell Rivers to the south and west of Cairns you are in Mareeba Rock-wallaby country.
Mareeba rock-wallabies looking for food 

Hodgson AJ, Marsh H, Corkeron PJ (2004) Provisioning by tourists affects the behaviour but not the body condition of Mareeba rock-wallabies (Petrogale mareeba). Wildlife Research 31, 451-456.

Eldridge MDB, Johnson PM, Hensler P, Holden JK, Close RL (2008) The distribution of three parapatric, cryptic species of rock-wallaby (Petrogale) in north-east Queensland: P. assimilis, P. mareeba and P. sharmani. Australian Mammalogy 30, 37-42.

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Last modified: 11/23/08