Wallabies are native to Australia but a surprising number of the nimble marsupials have been spotted some 10,000 miles away in England.
Researchers hoping to study the creatures analyzed reports across the country, uncovering nearly 100 confirmed sightings in about a decade.
Most of the sightings were in southern England and happened in the month of August.
Wild wallaby colonies were first established in Great Britain in the early 1990s.
They are canny escape artists and frequently break out of zoos, petting farms and other attractions.
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A wallaby spotted in Cornwall in 2010. Researchers have recorded at least 95 confirmed wallaby sightings in the UK since 2008, mostly in the south of England
Also known as Bennett’s wallaby or by its Latin name, macropus rufogriseus, the red-neck wallaby calls eastern Australia home, including Tasmania.
About the size of a dog, they have a gray coat with a reddish tinge across the shoulders.
Like their cousin the kangaroo, wallabies travel by hopping and carry their young in a pouch.
Colonies of wallabies were first established in England in 1900, predominantly in the Peak District, Derbyshire, and East Sussex.
Wild wallaby colonies were first established in Great Britain in the early 1990s. The marsupials are canny escape artists and frequently break out of zoos, petting farms and other attractions
During World War II, many wallabies were intentionally released into the wild, as zookeepers knew they’d no longer be able to care for them.
‘There hasn’t been a great deal of attention given to wallabies in the UK, despite fairly regular sightings reported in local media,’ said Anthony Caravaggi, a professor of conservation biology at the University of South Wales.
Caravaggi says most people who encounter a wallaby assume it’s escaped from a zoo or they simply refuse to believe they’re actually looking at a wallaby.
Caravaggi and English found wallaby sightings were most prevalent in August, though they’re not certain why. It’s possible that’s just when more humans are outside to notice them
Working with Holly English, a PhD candidate in ecology at University College Dublin, he pored over public records, media reports and social media postings to get an accurate count of red-neck wallabies sightings across the UK.
They identified 99 confirmed sightings between 2008 and 2019, according to their report in the journal Ecology and Evolution, mostly in the south of England.
Chiltern Hills northwest of London was home to 11 of the sightings.
‘It might come as a surprise that there have been so many sightings, but the fact is, wallabies are really good at escaping – they are fast, and able to leap some obstacles – so more of them end up roaming the British countryside than people might imagine,’ Caravaggi said. ‘It’s possible they’re breeding, too.’
The researchers were careful to discount any sightings of wallabies confirmed to be returned to their owners, and any that turned out to be another animal, like a deer or domestic cat.
The scientists were careful to discount wallaby sightings that were actually other animals like deer or domesticated cats (pictured)
Two sightings were recorded one year apart in Cornwall, both of wallabies with joeys in their pouches,
‘This could easily be a coincidence, or it could be an indication that wallabies are becoming established in the British countryside,’ said Caravaggi.
Subsisting on weeds, leaves, and grasses, red-neck wallabies seem to thrive in European habitats.
Caravaggi previously studied wallabies on the Isle of Man, which has a large, stable population of about 250 individuals, mostly descended from a pair that escaped a wildlife park in the 1970s.
About the size of a dog, the red-necked wallaby has a grayish coat with a reddish tinge across the shoulders. Like their cousin the kangaroo, wallabies travel by hopping and carry their young in a pouch.
The Rambouillet forest outside Paris is home to up to 100 wallabies, also descended from zoo escapes.
Other wild colonies have been discovered in Scotland, Ireland and Germany.
In their study of UK sightings, Caravaggi and English discovered more recorded in August than in any other time of year.
They aren’t certain why, but it’s possible that’s just when they’re more active – or when human observers are.
‘Perhaps the species is breeding in the wild and the young animals are dispersing away from their mothers,’ they wrote in IFL Science.
Caravaggi hopes to continue research into the wallabies of Britain, not only to see how they’ve adapted but to understand any impact they could be having on the environment as an invasive species.
Wild wallabies can also carry diseases that are transmissible to humans, including salmonella and leishmaniasis, a parasitic infection that kills 24,000 people a year.