Escapees from a local Wildlife Park
I’ll bet you didn’t know there were wild Wallabies living on the Isle of Man. Though not native, these relatives of kangaroos have been been living in Ballaugh for about fifty years. The story goes that sometime in the 1960s a breeding pair escaped from the island’s only wildlife park. From that single pair there are now estimated to be around a hundred wallabies in the marshy land known as the Curragh. Though terribly inbred, and suffering from poor sight as a result, the animals are flourishing and can be spotted singly or in family groups in the area’s nature reserves.
Even though I’ve been on the Isle of Man for well over three years I’d somehow never gotten around to seeing them. So when John ‘Dog’ Callister offered to take me and two friends on a walk around the Curragh last week I jumped at the invitation. John Dog spent many years working both on his own and for Manx National Heritage building public paths and structures for the Close Sartfields and Ballaugh Curraghs nature reserves.
He knows all about the Wallabies and has even caught a couple blind ones to take to the vet. With no native predators or poisonous snakes to injure them, the Wallabies seem to be doing okay on their own despite their challenges. The only real danger they have is from dogs and vehicles.
John Dog also gave us a tour of Sartfield Nature Reserve and we were introduced to scores of native wildflowers in both their English and Manx names. John Dog is considered an expert on Manx names for wildflowers and in some cases has helped create names where proper ones weren’t known.
I knew a few before such as ‘Tramman’ for Elder, and ‘Cushag’ for Ragwort but was also introduced to ‘Sleggan Slieau’ for Foxglove and ‘Ullaagagh’ for Honeysuckle. For a complete list, please have a look for John Dog’s book which is available in some of the Manx National Heritage gift shops.
The plantings were all fairly dense but every now and again John Dog would point out an old hedge or boundary wall in the undergrowth. You’d think they’d been there for eons by the way they were covered in plants so it was hard to believe that the park had been nothing more than treeless agricultural fields up to the 1960s.