PGC nabs wallaby on loose in Crawford Co.
Cambridge Springs, Pa. — Wildlife biologist Sarah Dippold thought she was losing it when she pulled into the driveway of the Hemlock Hill Biological Research Area in northern Crawford County one evening in late May, and watched as a kangaroo-like creature hopped in front of her car.
“I was on the phone with my mother and said, ‘Holy crap!’ No one’s going to believe this,’ so I took a picture with my camera phone, but I was so flustered I forgot to save it,” said Dippold, who once worked for the Pennsylvania Game Commission as a waterfowl biologist aide.
She got within 10 feet of the animal, which turned out to be a wallaby, and even offered it crackers she had in her car.
She called her landlord at Hemlock Hill, ornithologist Eugene Morton.
“She’s a biologist, so I wanted to believe her,” Morton said. “But I burst out laughing.”
Dippold then phoned Roger Coup, her former boss at the Game Commission, and asked him if he was ready for the weirdest call of the day.
“He said, ‘Well, it’s been a pretty weird day,’” Dippold recalled. “But when I told him what was going on, he said, ‘Okay, you win.’”
Coup and two wildlife conservation officers were dispatched to the spot off King Road where Dippold had last spotted the marsupial. They arrived with a tranquilizer gun and a crate big enough to hold a 25-pound critter with a 3-foot-long tail.
It took a while to locate the wallaby. “With all the shadows in the woods, it was hard to see,” said conservation officer Roger Senko. “And then I saw an ear twitch.”
Accustomed to tranquilizing bears and deer, Senko had never been trained in marsupial sedation, so he “guesstimated” the dose and aimed for the wallaby’s rump.
“It took longer reaction-wise than with other animals, but eventually his head went down,” Senko said. “He just didn’t stay out long. As I was getting him into the carrier, he showed signs of coming out of sedation.”
Wallabies defend themselves with their hind legs, with enough force to rival the deadliest kick-boxer, although Senko claimed he had little fear.
“I didn’t have enough sense or experience to worry about that,” he said. “I threw a blanket over the carrier to keep him calm on the ride to Pymatuning Deer Park.”
The park is licensed for exotic wildlife and was caring for the wallaby as of June 5, while the Game Commission tried to figure out how a wallaby wound up in Crawford County.
It is legal in Pennsylvania to possess exotic animals, but only with proper licensing and credentials. Prospective owners must prove they are experienced in handling a particular species and can meet breed-specific housing requirements.
There was some speculation that the wallaby had been dumped by someone from Ohio where no licensing is needed to possess exotics. Legislation is now pending in that state to require exotics licensing in the wake of the Zanesville tragedy earlier this year in which 50 lions, tigers and other exotics had to be shot after their owner set them free and then killed himself.
“Given how unafraid of me it was, I think it must have been someone’s pet, and they didn’t want to take care of it anymore,” said Dippold. “So they dropped it on the side of the road like a dog.”
How he would have fared in the woods over the long haul is anyone’s guess, said Senko. As an herbivore, the wallaby probably found plenty of vegetation on which to forage, but he may have been little match for Pennsylvania predators.
“I’m not sure he’d have won against a coyote or a bear,” Senko said.
In the meantime, he generated a lot of buzz at Hemlock Hill. As of June 5, the center’s Internet site had gotten one and a half million “hits.”