The yellow-footed rock wallaby

Published 20 Mar 2011 

The yellow-footed rock wallaby has been spotted recently at Boolcoomatta Reserve for the first time since 1924

Yellow-footed rock wallabyThe yellow-footed rock wallaby blends easily into rocky outcrops at places like Boolcoomatta Reserve. Photo: Jiri Lochman/Lochman Transparencies.

The yellow-footed rock wallaby is one of the most attractive and colourful mammals in Australia with its thick, rust-coloured fur coat and its golden yellow limbs.

It has distinctive white stripes on its cheeks, flanks and hips, and a yellow tail with light and dark rings, which you might think would make it easier to spot.

Instead, its colourings are the perfect camouflage for blending Into the rocky environment it calls home.

The wallaby also has an uncanny ability to remain motionless to avoid being seen by predators and, if disturbed, can flee at extremely high speeds. It’s hard to believe it could be so agile in such difficult terrain.

Hardy survivors

Yellow-footed rock wallabies live in colonies in the steep, rocky outcrops of the Flinders Ranges, the Gawler Ranges, and the Olary Hills (which extend into Bush Heritage’s Boolcoomatta Reserve) in South Australia, as well as parts of New South Wales and Queensland.

The terrain is sparse and uninviting and only the hardiest vegetation survives: little trees and shrubs that manage to push their roots down between the rocks, as well as short-lived herbs and grasses that appear after good rainfall. These are important food sources.

Life isn’t easy for these hardy little wallabies. They live in a hot climate, taking refuge during the day in small caves or hollows in rocky outcrops before emerging at dusk and dawn in search of food. Unfortunately, feral goats enjoy a similar diet – feeding on grasses, plants and shrubs – so competition for food is intense, particularly during drought.

The yellow-footed rock wallaby was once hunted for its beautiful fur coat and, while this is no longer a threat, it impacted dramatically on their numbers. Today, foxes are one of the biggest threats, as they prey on young wallabies.

Conservation project success

The good news is that life is slowly improving for the nationally vulnerable yellow-footed rock-wallaby. In 1993, the South Australian government began a conservation project aimed at protecting the species and reducing threats such as foxes and feral goats.

'When counts were first conducted in South Australia in the 1970s there were ongoing reductions in wallaby numbers and distribution,’ says Bush Heritage Ecologist, Sandy Gilmore. ‘But since active management has been implemented there has been a dramatic turnaround in its viability and fate.’

A new home at Boolcoomatta Reserve?

Last November, Boolcoomatta Reserve Manager Peter Ashton was out collecting seed at a rocky outcrop behind the homestead when he spotted a wallaby with a white cheek stripe.

Boolcoomatta ReserveBoolcoomatta Reserve. Photo: Wayne Lawler.

‘I could see clearly it was a yellow-footed rock wallaby and I was staggered it was there as their populations at Bimbowrie Conservation Reserve are 20 km away,’ says Peter. ‘But this location is perfect for the yellow-foots – it’s a small rocky outcrop, with lots of nooks and crannies. The vegetation is acacia shrubs over numerous herbs and grasses.’

Evidence found in the caves here indicates that yellow-footed rock wallabies lived in this area previously but the last reported sighting on Boolcoomatta was in 1924. Now it seems they may be returning. Thanks to the wonderful support of people like you, our ongoing predator and goat control programs have played a big part in nurturing the health of the habitat this beautiful creature likes to call home. 

Hopefully, it won’t be too long before Peter and his family witness a permanent colony of yellow-footed rock wallabies moving in at Boolcoomatta.

Boolcoomatta Reserve was acquired in 2006 with the assistance of the Australian Government under the Natural Heritage Trust’s National Reserve System Programme and the Nature Foundation SA. Thanks also to the Native Vegetation Council of South Australia for their support of vital conservation work on Boolcoomatta.

By Karen Graham

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