Wallabies on the loose in Suffolk
IT seems the pleas of Rolf Harris when he sang, tie me kangaroo down, sport and set me wallaby loose, Bruce, are being heeded today.Forget the tales of big cats supposedly roaming our countryside, and look out for marsupials bounding along on their big, powerful back legs.
IT seems the pleas of Rolf Harris when he sang, tie me kangaroo down, sport and set me wallaby loose, Bruce, are being heeded today.
Forget the tales of big cats supposedly roaming our countryside, and look out for marsupials bounding along on their big, powerful back legs.
It may sound far-fetched, but the fields and woods of east Suffolk may be home to a colony of wallabies usually found living in the wild "down under", on the other side of the world.
There have been sightings, too – a cyclist found a wallaby bounding along beside him on a road near Wickham Market, and a dead one was reported in a ditch at Bucklesham.
The sightings are a relief to this reporter, too – as I have had to suffer the ridicule of family and friends for a few years after spotting a wallaby sitting by the roadside at Warren Heath on the edge of Ipswich.
It was late at night, but I was sure the shadowy creature was the cuddly Australian marsupial and not some figment of my imagination.
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And animal experts say it is not impossible, as the creatures may have escaped and gone walkabout from someone's private collection, having been kept as pets, and could easily survive in this part of the country.
Colonies have been reported in Yorkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and last year one was found dead in a ditch at Dereham in Norfolk.
In the Peak District there has been a group living at Roach End, part of the climbers' paradise of rocks known as the Roaches, for more than 50 years.
During the Second World War, the Brocklehurst family, who ran nearby Swythamley Hall, released their collection of wallabies into the wild and the marsupials promptly set up house in the woods.
The latest sighting in Suffolk was made by Nick Beagley, 41, of Pettistree, near Wickham Market, as he cycled from his home to Ipswich railway station.
"It was absolutely extraordinary. It was hopping along the side of my bike before disappearing into the hedgerow," he said.
Suffolk Wildlife Park at Kessingland has small parma wallabies but has not lost any. Its staff said those living in the wild would most likely be red-necked wallabies and they could easily survive.
"There are a few colonies around the country so they could live quite happily in Suffolk – they graze and they eat leaves and would have no problem finding food," said a spokeswoman.
Audrey Boyle, of Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said it did appear wallabies were becoming naturalised here but the trust had not received any reports of groups in the county.
"With our countryside being so cultivated, you would not think there was the habitat for them, but then there have been many sightings of big cats and they manage to hide themselves away," she said.
"The coastal areas of the county do have large expanses of wilderness and so it is quite possible for animals to sometimes go unnoticed. I don't think they would be any danger to humans."
Conservationists would be concerned though if the wallaby colonies were large and their presence caused disruption to native wildlife – such as the devastation caused by the mink to the water vole.
n Have you seen a wallaby or any unusual animals in the wild in Suffolk? Let us know by writing to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk
n Wallabies are usually found in south and east Australia and Tasmania.
n They carry their young, called joeys, in a pouch on their stomach.
n A red-necked wallaby can bound along at over 40mph.
n They live in areas of scrubland or open forest with stretches of dry grass, widely spaced patches of bushes and clumps of trees, mainly seen from late afternoon into the night.
n Their main foods are grass and the shoots of young plants.
n They are sometimes killed and eaten by dingos.
n The animals' large tails are used for balance, and their ears can swivel round sideways to give them an excellent sense of hearing.
n Red-necked wallabies are around 100cm long, while the parma wallaby is only half as big.
n Wallabies cannot legally be released in the UK, under the terms of the Countryside and Wildlife Act.
Source: the internet