By ANNE BESTON
A mob of unwanted Australian immigrants have finally been given their marching orders after more than a century on Kawau Island.
The Department of Conservation and Auckland Regional Council are backing the Kawau Island Pohutukawa Trust to rid the island of wallabies by March 2005.
Trust founder Ray Weaver says he expects board members to approve the $45,000 eradication programme next week.
That money has come from landowners and residents who own 90 per cent of the Hauraki Gulf island.
Mr Weaver says DoC supports eradication, but it administers only 10 per cent of Kawau.
Most of the animals will be poisoned, but repatriation of live animals to their homeland and to zoos around the world will continue over the next three years.
DoC's Auckland conservator, Rob McCallum, says Australian authorities have expressed an interest in taking some animals back, "and our timeframe is intended to allow for that".
DoC will close a small pen of the animals kept for public display near Mansion House Bay.
Mr Weaver says more sophisticated poisons - including the slower-acting brodifacoum, which is also used as rat bait - mean eradication is now feasible.
The wallaby population on Kawau is estimated at between 4500 and 8500. Numbers fluctuate depending on how much vegetation is available. They were brought to the island as part of Governor Sir George Grey's experiments in exotic plants and wildlife in 1870.
A Kawau Island Residents and Ratepayers Association member, Mike Hodson, says the community has been divided on the issue in the past, but he believes most islanders now support a wallaby-free Kawau.
"It might sound sad, but I would rather have healthy pohutukawa around my place than a whole bunch of bloody hoppy wallabies.
"They're not Kiwi, they're Australian, and they destroy the native flora."
Wallaby trapper John Stephen, who has exported more than 1000 wallabies to zoos over the past eight years, is disappointed at the decision to rid Kawau island of them.
"I would be really sad to see them go. A lot of landowners want them gone, but a lot of residents think they are part of the island and should stay."
Of the original five species introduced to Kawau, four survive.
Mr Weaver says two are classified as threatened or endangered in their homeland.
He is keen to see the island rid of the overstayers, but he has some sympathy for wallaby fans.
"I fully understand that view.
"I tend to think of them as misplaced animals rather than pests, but we have had to make a hard decision."
By ANNE BESTON