RESEARCH: The Look At Me Now Headland population is under severe stress. The kangaroo on the left is wearing a solar powered GPS tracker.
RESEARCH: The Look At Me Now Headland population is under severe stress. The kangaroo on the left is wearing a solar powered GPS tracker. Contributed

Headland kangaroo population at breaking point

THE population density of kangaroos living on the Look At Me Now Headland is one of the highest reported for the species.

University of Sydney research currently underway into kangaroo populations at various locations across the Coffs Coast has identified a population under severe stress at the popular Emerald Beach headland.

Kangaroo numbers on the headland are as high as 536 per square kilometre. In addition, the density of red-neck wallabies within the same area is approximately 84 per square kilometre resulting in exceptionally high grazing pressure on the threatened ecological community they inhabit (Themeda Grass).

Data suggests the population density has increased over the last two years, which is in line with anecdotal reports from the community.

This high density, combined with poor grassland vegetation on the headland, has led to the population showing signs of ill health. Blood tests indicate the animals are anaemic (have lower numbers of red blood cells) which could be related to nutritional stress and iron deficiency as well as the impact of internal and external parasites.

"The lower number of red blood cells has caused some animals, particularly young ones, to appear listless, as red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen around the body.

”The concerning thing about this is that many visitors to the headland may mistakenly believe these listless animals are comfortable with them approaching very closely for photos and 'selfies', when in fact they are in such poor condition they simply don't have the energy to retreat from close encounters with people,” University of Sydney Associate Professor Catherine Herbert said.

The work at Emerald is part of groundbreaking research under way across the Coffs region that could inform the way we manage kangaroo populations in urban growth areas along the east coast.

"The focus up until now has mostly been on kangaroos and agriculture, but right along the east coast in those regional beachie places you've got housing developments and also the highway coming through altering the way kangaroos can move; often resulting in the isolation of individual populations," Prof. Herbert said.

"It leaves animals marooned in isolated habitats."

Preliminary data suggests the adult population at the Emerald headland is strongly female biased, with approximately four females for every one male which is not necessarily unusual for kangaroos.

Research has also revealed that, like other kangaroo populations in peri-urban areas, females on the headland have exceptionally small home ranges with most not moving more than the equivalent of about 100 housing blocks over a three month period.

In April this year researchers began a fertility control pilot study where they treated 20 female kangaroos on the headland with contraceptive implants. This is part of a broader program, supported by Coffs Harbour City Council and the Office of Environmental and Heritage, which aims to determine how effective contraceptive implants are at inhibiting reproduction in females, and for how long they last, so researchers can determine whether fertility control is a viable strategy for managing high density kangaroo populations on the coast.

The research team is calling on the public to report any signs of ill animals on the headland through their Facebook page (@Coffs Harbour Kangaroos)