MAR 18, 2015 01:53 PM PDT

Kangas and Cars Are a Dangerous Mix

Normally, the very rare albino wallaroos are not found anywhere near racecars and revving engines. However, there is a first time for everything. Recently, in the Mount Panorama Woodlands natural reserve in Bathurst Australia, a mother wallaroo and her tiny brown joey have been spotted.

Standing about 4.9 feet tall and bounding around the eucalyptus gum trees, the white marsupial seems quite at home, despite being only a few hundred meters away from a race track where high-powered muscle cars careen around at speeds over 100 miles per hour. The wallaroo, believed to be more than four years old and one of only three spotted in the area, has thrilled researchers studying the local kangaroo population, but scientists worry about the safety of the animals as well.

The Bathurst Kangaroo Project, funded by the University of Technology Sydney's Centre for Compassionate Conservation and Bathurst's local council are working together to reduce any conflict between the rare animals and the racecars. Mount Panorama is home to the "Bathurst 1000", known as the "Great Race", which takes place in October.
In 2009, some 140 kangaroos were culled from the area sparking outrage from animal activists. Several videos of the kangas bouncing between cars traveling upwards of 125 miles per hour have gone viral on YouTube. Fences have been erected, but the animals are wily and some still manage to get on the track.

"We see kangaroos jumping into fences left, right and centre, getting scared," said conservation biologist Daniel Ramp describing how some kangaroos react when stressed by the race and the appearance of thousands of fans.
Kangaroos are beloved creatures in Australia, featured on the country's coat of arms and number in the millions. There are currently about 50 different species of kangaroos in shades of red, brown and of course, grey.

Wallaroos are slightly smaller, and typically have a mousy colored fur.

Only a handful of albino kangaroos are mentioned in scientific literature, but Ramp said that zoos have bred albinos in the past as attractions. although zoos have bred them in the past as attractions, said Ramp from UTS.

The researchers believe the three white wallaroos -- two adult females and a joey -- in the area may be descendants from a male albino brought to Bathurst by Australian philanthropist Sir Edward Hallstrom four decades ago. Hallstrom -- who was a trustee of Sydney's Taronga Zoo -- donated the wallaroo to a local nature park, although it is not known where he got it from, the park's manager for some 25 years Ian McArtney said.

McArtney said he also saw albinism in smaller-sized red-neck wallabies, but none of them survived for more than a few months as they were preyed on by feral cats and foxes.
Potential solutions to the problem include moving those trapped in woodlands within the circuit to another area, or changing the fences, kangaroo scientist Ray Mjadwesch said. Animals are also radio-tagged.

Listening posts pick up the frequencies emitted by the tags every 30 seconds, with the figures painting a picture of where they roam on race days and for the rest of the year.
Motion-sensor camera traps document the animals' behavior, and there are plans to make the data publicly available to get the local community involved.

The researchers plan to count the animals and hopefully identify familial groups within the population. If they can determine the pace at which the population is growing and expand their data-collection to other regions, more can be done to assess the situation.

Four species -- swamp wallabies, red-necked wallabies, wallaroos and eastern grey kangaroos -- have so far been observed at Mount Panorama.
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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