Highlights of Australia: The yellow-footed rock-wallaby

An Antipodean travel company serving world travellers since 1983

Yellow-footed rock wallaby

Highlights of Australia: The yellow-footed rock-wallaby

Today a threatened species, the yellow-footed rock-wallaby is one of Australia’s most charming and attractive marsupials.

Yellow-foots are the largest of the rock-wallaby family of wallabies. Sitting up, they reach a height of about 60 centimetres, and weigh between 6 and 12 centimetres. They are distinguished by their white cheek-stripes; orange ears, forearms, and hind legs; a striped tail; soft, white fur on the belly; and of course, their yellow feet.

Yellow-footed rock-wallabies are found in a number of small regions of the Australian landmass, including Idalia National Park, north of Charleville in Queensland; Mutawintji National Park, near Broken Hill; the Flinders Ranges and Gammon Ranges, in eastern South Australia, and the mallee landscape of the Gawler Ranges on the Eyre Peninsula, South Australia.

Yellow footed rock wallaby
Yellow-footed rock-wallaby

They are naturally drawn to rocky, semi-arid habitats of red dirt and mulga. Rocky outcrops provide shelter from extreme temperatures, and protection from predators. They feed on vegetation between rocks and at the bottom of rock piles. They can be somewhat fussy, preferring grasses and herbs when they’re available after rains, but will eat fallen leaves in times of drought. During summer, living in climates that can top 50 degrees Celsius, rock wallabies tend to be nocturnal, while they are active day and night during the winter. On cool mornings, they often sit up and bask in the sunlight.

Because their habitat tends to be fragmented, yellow-footed rock-wallabies form colonies of up to and over 100 individuals. These groups are made up of smaller colonies, consisting of a dominant male, several subordinate males, a number of females, and an assortment of juveniles. Each smaller colony uses an area of around 1000 hectares.

Yellow-footed rock-wallabies generally get along well with one another, though they do not form close bonds or groom one another. Dominance between males is usually sorted without physical violence, through aggressive behaviours such as sniffing, hissing, stamping, pawing and chasing. Only the dominant male is able to mate. As females can breed continuously when conditions are favourable, there will usually be several young wallabies of various ages within the colony. A female may even have a small joey in the pouch and another that is almost independent.

The Adnyamathanha people of the Flinders Ranges called the wallaby andu. They hunted andu extensively, placing traps (pits disguised with broombrush) along their usual paths. However, the distribution of meat was under the control of initiated men, and exploitation was well regulated.

The first European to see a yellow-foot was most likely the explorer Edward John Eyre. During his exploration of the Flinders Ranges in 1840, he recorded seeing them in large numbers at Mt Aroona, noting in his journal that ‘they leapt and clambered up among the steep sides of the cliffs in a manner quite incredible.’ 

In the 1880s, yellow-footed rock-wallabies were said to occur in ‘droves of 60 or 70’. Tragically, hunting and introduced predators reduced their numbers considerably. Around the turn of the 20th century, tens of thousands of yellow-foots were hunted for ‘sport’ and profit. The beauty of their fur made shooting them profitable.

By 1912, the decline was obvious. The South Australian Parliament passed the Animals Protection Act, forbidding the hunting of yellow-foots for their skins. Yet, even after the hunting stopped, wallaby numbers did not recover. Reduced populations now had to deal with foxes and cats as predators, and compete with introduced grazers, sheep, rabbits, and goats – with whom they share an overlapping diet and enter intense competition in drought.

In the 1970s, conservation efforts were stepped up. In 1975, the South Australia National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) began formulating a management plan for the populations in that state. Academics studied the breeding and population patterns of the wallabies, and plans were made to reintroduce captive-bred animals back into the wild.

In 2000, yellow-footed rock wallabies were considered a threatened species. Queensland had a total yellow-footed rock-wallaby population of around 5000, while populations were much lower in New South Wales.

yellow footed rock wallaby joeys
Two yellow-footed rock-wallaby joeys.

In the Flinders Ranges, the yellow-footed rock-wallaby was on the verge of extinction, with a population of only around 40 by 1992. Thanks to the elimination of predators and competitors – foxes and goats – they have since bounced back, with more than 1000 living around Brachina Gorge. Similarly, the Gawler Ranges National Park has seen a population of around 6 bounce back into the hundreds, thanks to skilful conservation management.

Despite this encouraging population growth, the yellow-footed rock-wallaby remains a vulnerable species in South Australia, and an endangered species in New South Wales and Queensland.

Odyssey Traveller visits regions with significant yellow footed rock wallaby populations on two of our Australia tours: our tour of the Flinders Ranges, and our tour of the Eyre Peninsula, Yorke Peninsula, and Gawler Ranges.

The Flinders Ranges and Gawler Ranges are some of the most accessible parts of the Australian outback. Our Flinders Range tour begins in Adelaide, before heading to Port Augusta at the top of the Spencer Gulf, where we learn about the outback at the Wadlata Outback Centre. We then head further into the arid heart of South Australia, exploring Coober Pedy, Woomera, and the Oodnadatta Track, before taking a scenic flight over Lake Eyre. We then journey to the northern Flinders Ranges, beginning with a hike at the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, before heading on to Wilpena Pound (or Ikara Flinders), a natural amphitheatre surrounded by a mountain range in the iconic Flinders Ranges National Park. We learn about its spiritual significance to the Adnyamathanha Aboriginal culture on a guided walk. The majestic Flinders Ranges are home to several places of natural beauty, including Parachilna Gorge, Bunyeroo Gorge and Rawnsley Bluff, accessible via short walking trails. Finally, we head through the southern Flinders ranges on our return to Adelaide.

We also have the chance to encounter a yellow footed rock wallaby on our visit to the Gawler Ranges, as part of our tour of South Australia focusing on the Eyre Peninsula and the Yorke Peninsula. This small group tour takes us around the Eyre Peninsula, Australia‘s ‘seafood frontier’, visiting Port Lincoln, and seeing native wildlife, including Australian sea lions and fur seals, and the great white shark. We go bushwalking among sheltered creeks, ancient cliffs and rolling hills of red dirt in the Gawler Ranges, and enjoy spectacular views of Lake Gairdner; while on the Yorke Peninsula we learn about the Cornish heritage and copper mining history of the area before heading south to trail along the Southern Ocean’s eerie ‘shipwreck coast’, enjoying panoramic views of the ocean.

Odyssey Traveller has been serving mature and senior travellers, with a passion for authentic travel experiences, since 1983. We move in genuinely small groups, usually 6 to 12 people plus your guide! Our tour price generally includes accommodation, transport, entrance to attractions, and several meals.

Travellers with an interest in visiting Australia may want to check out our Adelaide city and surrounds guided tour (including Kangaroo Island, the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale wine regions, Adelaide Hills and the Murray River), our wildflowers of Western Australia tour, and our tour of Marvellous Melbourne.

Articles about Australia published by Odyssey Traveller:

For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.

External articles to assist you on your visit to Australia:

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