Parma wallaby (Macropus parma)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderDiprotodontia
FamilyMacropodidae
GenusMacropus (1)
SizeTotal length: 100 cm (2)
Weight2.6 – 5.9 kg (3)

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The parma wallaby is the smallest member of the genus Macropus, which contains a number of kangaroo, wallaby and wallaroo species (4). The parma wallaby has short, brown fur on the back, turning greyish on the head, while the upper chest, lower jaw and underparts are covered in white to light grey fur (5). The long, strong tail, which is typically the same length as the rest of the body, is sparsely covered in fur. While both the male and female have small, thin forelimbs, the forelimbs of the male are slightly longer, an adaptation which may have evolved to allow the male to hold a female during mating (6).

The parma wallaby is native to Australia, where it is currently confined to suitable scattered forests in New South Wales (1). It can be found up to 1,000 metres above sea level, in areas such as the Barrington Tops, the Gibraltar Range and the Dorrigo Plateau (1). It used to also occur in coastal forests (1) and was prominent in the area around Sydney, but populations in these areas collapsed due to human activities (7).

The parma wallaby is also found on Kawau Island, New Zealand, where it was introduced in 1870 by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sir George Grey, who maintained a zoological park on the island. This wallaby population boomed and the parma wallaby is now considered a pest on the island (7) (8).

The preferred habitat of the parma wallaby is wet sclerophyll forest with a thick, shrubby understory, near to grassy areas in which the wallaby feeds (9). However, it has also been found in dry forests of eucalyptus trees, with a dense understory. It tends to be found in areas where there is a higher proportion of bladed and tussock grasses than herbs (10).

The parma wallaby is a solitary, nocturnal, cryptic creature which spends the daytime sheltering under cover (11) Shortly after waking at dusk, the parma wallaby commences feeding, typically congregating in small groups of two to three individuals to forage. Its diet consists of herbs and grasses (11). The majority of social interactions occur at dawn, when there is a peak in activity, although social interactions account for around just two percent of a parma wallaby’s daily activity (11).

In captivity, female parma wallabies reach sexual maturity between 11 and 16 months of age, while males mature later at 22 months (12). Pairs bond through a courtship ritual involving the female rubbing her head against the male’s chest, the male pawing and sniffing the female’s rump, and pronounced ‘clucking’ vocalisations by the male and ‘hissing’ by the female (11). A female parma wallaby releases only a single egg at a time but can produce multiple offspring within a breeding season, as the female can become fertile again only days after giving birth (12).

Offspring, known as joeys, are born between February and June (5), after a gestation period of 30 to 32 days (12). Like all marsupials (5), the undeveloped young immediately crawls up the mother’s stomach to the pouch, where the remaining development takes place (12). Infants leave the pouch for short intervals by 175 days of age (6).

The main threat to the parma wallaby has been identified as predation by introduced foxes, dingoes and feral cats (13). It is also thought to be vulnerable to forest clearing, as wallaby populations declined considerably after Europeans settled in Australia, particularly around Sydney where it was once common (7) (14). Grazing by livestock and bushfires can also reduce the availability of suitable vegetation in which the wallaby can shelter (1).  

A popular conservation method is to remove animals from one population to supplement dwindling populations elsewhere; thus it was suggested that the pest population in New Zealand could boost growth in the Australian populations. Scientists were concerned that the groups could be genetically different and so if individuals from the two groups bred, their biological uniqueness would be compromised (15). However, a study on the island population has shown that they have retained important biological characteristics and have not interbred with other wallaby species (hybridised), therefore could act as a reintroduction stock for the Australian parma wallabies (5). There are also carefully managed zoo populations, which assist in captive breeding programs (11). However, previous attempts to reintroduce the parma wallaby have failed due to significant loss to predators (16), thus the removal of this threat may be a priority. As such, fox control populations have been recommended (1).

To find out about wildlife conservation in Australia see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Maynes, G.M. (1983) Parma wallaby Macropus parma. In: Strahan, R. (Ed.) The Australian Museum Complete Book of Australian Mammals. Angus and Robertson, London.
  3. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  4. King, C.M. (1990) Parma wallaby. In: King, C.M. (Ed.) The Handbook of New Zealand Mammals. Oxford University Press, Auckland.
  5. Taylor, A.C., Sunnucks, P. and Cooper, D.W. (1999) Retention of reproductive barriers and ecological differences between two introduced sympatric Macropus spp. in New Zealand. Animal Conservation, 2: 195-202.
  6. Maynes, G.M. (1976) Growth of the parma wallaby, Macropus parma, Waterhouse. Australian Journal of Zoology, 24(2): 217-236.
  7. Wodzicki, K. and Flux, J.E.C. (1971) The parma wallaby and its future. Oryx, 11: 40-49.
  8. Staker, L. (2006) The Complete Guide to the Care of Macropods. Armidale, New South Wales. 
  9. Maynes, G.M. (1977) Distribution and aspects of the biology of the parma wallaby, Macropus parma, in New South Wales. Australian Wildlife Research, 4(2): 109-125.
  10. Read, D.G. and Fox, B.J. (1991) Assessing the habitat of the parma wallaby Macropus parma (Masupialia: Macropodidae). Wildlife Research, 18(4): 469-477.
  11. Ord, T.J., Evans, C.S. and Cooper, D.W. (1999) Nocturnal behaviour of the parma wallaby, Macropus parma (Marsupialia: Macropodoidea). Australian Journal of Zoology, 47: 155-167.
  12. Maynes, G.M. (1973) Reproduction in the parma wallaby, Macropus parma, Waterhouse. Australian Journal of Zoology, 21(3): 331-351.
  13. Burbridge, A.A. and McKenzie, N.L. (1989) Patterns in the modern decline of Western Australia’s vertebrate fauna: causes and conservation implications. Biological Conservation, 50: 143-198.
  14. Calaby, J.H. and Grigg, G.C. (1989) Changes in macropodoid communities and populations in the past 200 years and the future. In: Grigg, G., Jarman, P. and Hume, I. (Eds.) Kangaroos, Wallabies and Rat Kangaroos. Volume II. Surrey Beatty & Sons, New South Wales, Australia.
  15. Maynes, G.M. (1995) Parma wallaby. In: Strahan, R. (Ed.) The Mammals of Australia. Reed Books, Sydney.
  16. Short, J. and Smith, A. (1994) Mammal decline and recovery in Australia. Journal of Mammalogy, 75(2): 288-297.