Wild wal­la­bies roam vil­lages ly­ing west of Paris

The China Post - - FEATURE - BY JULI­ETTE MONTESSE

A tiny French vil­lage in Paris’s leafy western sub­urbs is ringed by scores of wild wal­la­bies, who now thrive in a nearby for­est a world away from their na­tive Aus­tralia.

The colony of the red-necked Ben­nett’s wal­la­bies, which look sim­i­lar but are much smaller than kan­ga­roos, are orig­i­nally from Tas­ma­nia and were brought into a zo­o­log­i­cal re­serve in the vil­lage of Emance, about 70 kilo­me­ters (40 miles) south­west of Paris.

A group of them es­caped through holes in the fenc­ing in the 1970s into the sur­round­ing ver­dant forests.

They sub­se­quently bred and re­searchers now be­lieve that there are about 100 of the mar­su­pi­als liv­ing in the wild in a cli­mate very sim­i­lar to that of Tas­ma­nia.

The spot­tings have sparked in­credulity and light-hearted ex­changes and ban­ter.

“A neigh­bor asked me: ‘Did you see the kan­ga­roo?’” said Mary­lene, a gro­cer in the vil­lage of Her­meray, about 10 kilo­me­ters from Emance.

“I said: ‘Are you high?” she re­called about an ex­change in June last year.

But it was no hal­lu­ci­na­tion. Mary­lene saw the ev­i­dence for her­self.

The an­i­mal was there, “in front of the gate as if it was wait­ing for the gro­cery to open. Then it went off down the road with lit­tle re­gard for traf­fic signs,” she said.

Bruno Mu­nilla from the forestry cen­ter in nearby Ram­bouil­let, said their num­bers could range from be­tween 100 and 150.

Most of them live around Emance but some have mi­grated as far as Ulis, some 40 kilo­me­ters far­ther east.

‘It was taboo!’

Wal­laby re­searcher Laure Raad said the mar­su­pi­als — whose life span can go up to 15 years — “in­te­grated re­ally well into the lo­cal ecosys­tem be­cause they found food and shel­ter here.”

“They’re safe be­cause the for­est gives them shel­ter and they find plenty to eat, feed­ing mostly on wild berries and green plants.”

Apart from the abun­dance of food, they also don’t have to worry about preda­tors. The 80-cen­time­ter, 15 kilo­gram an­i­mals are too big for the lo­cal foxes. Their big­gest dan­ger is cars. “We prob­a­bly have about 30 to 40 col­li­sions per year. Not all are deadly but 15-20 an­i­mals do get killed,” said Mu­nilla.

Skep­ti­cal in­sur­ance com­pa­nies have a hard time be­liev­ing peo­ple who claim a wal­laby caused their ac­ci­dent, said Emance’s Mayor Chris­tine David, adding that she has to pro­vide “cer­tifi­cates say- ing that there are in fact wal­la­bies in the area.”

At­ti­tudes to­wards the wild wal­la­bies have shifted over the years. There was a time when their pres­ence caused con­fu­sion.

Spot­ting a wal­laby af­ter an evening tip­ple could even make one swear off drink­ing.

“About 20 to 25 years ago, it was all taboo! There was a sort of code of si­lence,” said Stephane Wal­czak from the Hunt­ing Fed­er­a­tion of the Ile-de-France, which en­com­passes Paris and its sur­round­ing ar­eas.

A hunt­ing ban on wal­la­bies has helped them to mul­ti­ply, he said.

“Kan­ga­roos fall into a le­gal void. We can’t hunt them be­cause in France species are listed as ei­ther game, pests, pro­tected species or pets. Kan­ga­roos ap­pear nowhere.”

In 2003, some yel­low signs fea­tur­ing a leap­ing wal­laby sil­hou­ette in­stalled by lo­cal pranksters helped lighten the mood, and “loosen tongues,” Wal­czak said.

Now the an­i­mal has be­come a sort of mas­cot, Emance’s mayor said.

Mary­lene never saw the wal­laby again, but she said she is keep­ing her eyes peeled just to be sure.

“So now if I see a pink ele­phant wouldn’t im­me­di­ately brush it off.”

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