MPI defends $2.76m cost of Otago wallaby control

Fewer wallabies means more feed for farmers' stock in South Canterbury. Photo: Allied Press Files
Officials say fewer wallabies in Otago means a higher cost per kill. Photo: Allied Press Files
On a per wallaby basis, it has cost more than $150,000 for each of the pest animals killed in Otago over the past couple of years, the Taxpayers’ Union says.

The government-spending pressure group is decrying the $2.76million, and more than 26,000 hours of work, spent on Otago’s wallaby control programme, which has killed just 18 wallabies since July 1, 2020.

Compared to neighbouring Canterbury, where the cost per wallaby destroyed was $764 and just under 5 hours of human labour, Otago’s wallaby control efforts were a "shocking waste of taxpayer money", the pressure group said.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has today responded, saying in areas where wallaby numbers are greater, such as in Canterbury the numbers of pests killed were in the thousands, whereas in Otago where there were very few of the introduced animals, the control programmes focussed on surveillance.

In a statement this week, Taxpayers’ Union executive director Jordan Williams said the union had warned that the $1.2billion Jobs for Nature fund, backing wallaby control work, would be a "slush fund with unmonitored, high cost, low-value spending".

The response to an official information request by the Taxpayers' Union that he provided to media, he said, vindicated that warning.

"This is a shocking waste of taxpayer money," Mr Williams said. "It would have been cheaper to charter a private jet for each of these wallabies to send them back to Australia."

Biosecurity New Zealand readiness and response director John Walsh said wallaby control required a mix of strategies in different parts of the country.

In Canterbury, kill numbers, or the animals known to be destroyed by shooting or poison was 6665.

In areas like Otago, the focus was on surveillance because wallaby numbers were much lower "and we want to track each last one down".

"Surveillance is vital for tracking the remaining wallabies down," Mr Walsh said. "It is not wasted money, but saving the cost of any large future wallaby infestation."

The information that Biosecurity New Zealand provided shows in Canterbury $5.1million was spent, including $2.4million on toxic bait dropped from helicopters, and $1.7million on shooting by ground teams, using thermal scopes or dogs to track wallabies.

Meanwhile, in Otago $34,000 was spent on ground shooting, there were no bait drops from helicopters, and $2.3million was spent on surveillance.

Last month, the Otago Daily Times reported surveillance indicated that between two and four animals were believed to live in the hills above Dunedin around Flagstaff and Swampy Summit.

Dogs and thermal cameras were used by council contractors to follow up public sightings in the area, regional council environmental implementation manager Libby Caldwell said at the time.

Today, Mrs Caldwell said in terms of MPI's national programme, Otago was the closest to achieving eradication in the short to medium term.

A coordinated, collaborative effort provided the best chance of ridding Otago of wallabies.

"Having the right knowledge and tools to detect and control wallabies is vital to protecting biodiversity, native species habitat, production land and in our area our iconic Otago landscapes."