Spring 2001
Marsupial of the Season

 

The Dama (or Tammar) Wallaby

(Macropus eugenii)

 by

Trevor Harrowfield

Please click on thumbnails to enlarge

A Dama Wallaby (Macropus eugenii) photographed at Cleland Wildlife Park, Adelaide, South Australia in November 2001

The Dama or Tammar Wallaby (Macropus eugenii) is without doubt the most commonly kept marsupial in Australia, being even easier to keep than it’s domesticated cousin, the sheep, but there seems to have been precious little written about the keeping of this species in a captive environment.

As the species is so common in captivity I have not included here a detailed description of its appearance.  This and detailed notes on it’s habits in the in the wild are recorded in Ronald Strahan's book "The Australian Museum Complete Book of Australian Mammals" published by Angus and Robertson and it’s general appearance can be gained from the photographs therein and those included here.    It is the intention of this article to centre on the Dama Wallaby in captivity.

Housing

I keep a trio, one male and two females, in an enclosure measures 21m (70ft) x 8m (26ft) by 8m (26ft), plus any young to weaning stage which is covered by grass/clover type pasture, similar to a clover grass lawn.    With irrigation this remains green all year round and provides sufficient food with some supplementation.

This method under which I keep my animals could be reasonably adopted for small urban backyard.    Your local climate will determine the orientation of your enclosure but if you have very cold winters it is probably best to position it to face the North or East to maximise sunlight, however, our yards do not and the animals have not shown any signs of suffering during our inclement winters.    Our yards have a lot of shade which tends to offer plenty of protection and humidity during the hot weather so I am unable to offer any advice on how they would handle excessive heat.

(Editors comment: - having also kept these animals I have no recollection of them ever being bothered by high temperatures, even well into the 40 – 45oC  range, provided they are given a constant supply of fresh water and plenty of shade)

Fencing

The most important aspect of keeping wallabies is the fencing system to enclose them, nothing is worse than to have an irreplaceable animal escape under the fence.

(Editors comment: You will note Trevor said under the fence – this is most definitely their most likely route for escape.    You would be amazed at the size of some of the gaps I have seen these animals squeeze through).

Our wallaby yard fence is 1.7m (5'6") high and consists of 900mm (3ft) of chain mesh which is pegged at the bottom and has gum strainers placed on the inside of the fence to prevent the wallabies pushing under it.  On top of this is added another 900mm (3ft) cyclone sheep mesh.  The height of the fence is important in keeping dogs out rather than keeping the wallabies in.

I have seen other methods using steel rails and posts set into concrete with a concrete ‘plinth’ running along the fence line under the bottom rail which works well as the wallabies are unable to push under this type of fence.

Another similar system I have seen consists again of a concrete foundation with 12mm (”) tubular steel posts and a sheet of corrugated iron running horizontally to the concrete and 1200mm (4ft) four foot of netting above and then a 10mm 3/8” tubular steel rail at the top.

Wallaby Yard

The posts in my yard were ‘H’ iron and I have not experienced any losses due to animals running into them, which was put forward as a possible problem using this method.      We have, however, lost two animals to foxes, but only whilst the wallabies were allowed access to the calf enclosure which is alongside their yard and is basically constructed of the same materials in the same manner. (See sketch)

Sheds

Some wallabies will use them and others won’t.    Ours wouldn’t, even in spite of the very cold winters in our area, however, a small shed of 1m (3ft) x1m (3ft) x 1m (3ft) with a 1m (3ft) verandah is provided for them.    An old water tank cut in half makes an excellent shelter for this type of animal, but remember to cover the tank with something (like hay, soil, tree branches etc etc) to avoid them becoming too hot in the summertime.

Water

The easiest part about wallabies is water provision.    Prior to obtaining the animals we had set up an extensive and intricate trough system but found that the animals ignored it and preferred to drink from an old 1ltre saucepan.   We found that this saucepan was quite adequate for the purpose and during the winter time was very rarely touched but in the summer, the three animals would drink half a litre of water per day.

Feeding

Apart from having access to the grass in their enclosures our wallabies are also provided with Lucerne, grown under and irrigation system on the property and the three animals would be given approximately 350 grams per day plus about 250 grams of dry pelletised food.     On a weekly basis, this diet would be supplemented with shrubby plant material, which was mostly tree Lucerne, also occurring naturally on the property, and some fruit tree prunings, which they relished.    From a dietary point of view, they are an easy to care for animal.

Health and Medication 

A conventionally coloured and albino Dama (Tammar) Wallaby photographed at the Gorge Wildlife Park, Cudlee Creek in the Adelaide Hills.

Our animals are neither treated for bacterial diseases such as pulpy kidney (enterotoxemia), tetanus or internal parasites (eg roundworms, tapeworms etc) and what’s lumpy jaw?  (See next article “Jaw Disease in Macropods”).      Apart from the occasional fox, the only serious problem’s that have occurred have been from neighbourhood dogs and we have solved this problem by piling a heap of old tree tops and prunings within the wallaby yard that they can hide under with safety.    We have in fact included two of these heaps, one in the centre of the yard and the other one in the corner.    Since adopting this method our losses have been minimal.

Catching

To catch our animals they are allowed to graze in the calf yard alongside their own enclosure which they access through a gate.    We then construct a temporary wire funnel at this gate and encourage the animals into it by herding them back to their own yard.

Marketing

Prices for these animals can fluctuate wildly so there is little point quoting prices here but whatever you buy or sell them for is entirely a matter between buyer and seller.    The situation is not helped by the fact that one male can serve many females, meaning that males will often go for give away prices, (or even given away) and females can be costly and often hard to find.

Conclusion

The Dama Wallaby is a tough, dependable performer under all conditions with a likeable, friendly, but somewhat nervous, disposition.   He will only raise his owners blood pressure either because of his habit of eating shrubs provided for shelter and beautification, etc., or because he is not afraid to escape from a poorly constructed yard.

 
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