Petrogale xanthopus - Monarto 1

Yellow-footed rock wallaby (Petrogale xanthopus) at Monarto Zoo, South Australia.

The sociable yellow-footed rock wallaby lives in small groups, usually consisting of fewer than 20 individuals, although groups comprising over 100 individuals have been known. It feeds mainly on grasses but relies more on the leaves of shrubs and trees during periods of drought, when it uses its front paws to grab branches to pull them down to its mouth. As you would expect from a relative of the kangaroo, the yellow-footed rock wallaby is very agile and able to jump vertically to almost two and a half times its own height.

There is no distinct breeding season for the yellow-footed rock wallaby, although it is thought that the number of births is influenced by food availability, and hence rainfall. Females have a gestation period of 31 to 32 days, after which the single young (occasionally twins), spends a period of approximately 194 days in its mother’s pouch where, like all marsupials, development continues. The young then leaves the pouch, but for the next seven to ten days it will remain close to its mother so it can return to the safety of the pouch if threatened. This “at-heel” stage is remarkably short; in the majority of other kangaroo and wallaby species this stage lasts for a month or more, giving the young much more time to learn the skills necessary to survive in the world while still having the safety of the pouch at hand. After this time, the young will continue to feed on its mother’s milk for a few more months but are physically on their own. Females often leave their young in a protected area for a long period of time while they are foraging; during this time the young is very vulnerable to predation. The yellow-footed rock wallaby reaches sexual maturity around 18 months of age, and can live for up to 10 years.

Description Edit

The yellow-footed rock wallaby stands out among other wallaby and kangaroo species due to its relatively bright colors and distinctive patterning. This marsupial is fawn grey with a pale underside, and a white stripe runs down the side. The forearms, hind legs and feet range from a rich orange colour to yellow. The face displays a white cheek stripe and the backs of the large ears are covered with yellow hair. The tail is orange-brown and decorated with dark bands running down its length, ending in a bushy tip which is most often dark brown, occasionally white. Surprisingly, the bright colouration of the yellow-footed rock wallaby actually provides it with camouflage against the patterns of light and shadow falling on the red rocks of its habitat.

Range and Habitat Edit

Found only in Australia, the yellow-footed rock wallaby is patchily distributed across the states of South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. Two subspecies have been recognized: Petrogale xanthopus xanthopus occurs in South Australia and New South Wales, whereas Petrogale xanthopus celeris is found in Queensland. The yellow-footed rock wallaby is typically found on rocky outcrops in semi-arid locations near a permanent water source.

Threats and Conservation Edit

Between the 1880s and 1920s, the hunting of the yellow-footed rock wallaby by European colonists for its fur greatly reduced its numbers, and resulted in the extinction of some colonies. Presently, it is more threatened by competition with introduced herbivores, such as rabbits, sheep and goats, as well as predation by introduced foxes and, to a lesser extent, wedge-tailed eagles (Aquila audax). Wildfires and outbreaks of disease can also cause a great deal of damage to smaller populations.

The South Australian government is managing a conservation programme in the Olary Hills, central Flinders Range and Gawler Ranges, all key sites of the yellow-footed rock wallaby. The project, called ‘Operation Bounceback’ conducts numerous activities, including fox and feral herbivore control, regeneration of native plant species, destruction of rabbit warren systems, and the reintroduction of native fauna. While the project initially focused on reducing the threats to rock wallaby colonies, it has now developed a broader conservation initiative that will not only help the yellow-footed rock wallaby, but also the many other native plants and animals it shares its habitat with. In addition, in Buckaringa Wildlife Sanctuary, South Australia, efforts are being made to control feral animal numbers in an attempt to reduce competition and predation.

Similar work is also taking place in New South Wales, where a programme of fox and feral goat control, habitat conservation and the enhancement of water sources is taking place. Yellow-footed rock wallaby population numbers are to be monitored as the work continues. Finally, there have been reintroductions of the yellow-footed rock wallaby to sites in Queensland and South Australia. These have proved to be successful and will hopefully continue, to ensure, alongside all the other conservation measures, a brighter future for this brightly colored wallaby.

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