Afterthoughts: Kangaroo You

Beasts bounce through Kalihi Valley—and my imagination.

Photo: Linny Morris

I was listening to story ideas during a meeting recently when our assistant editor, Tiffany, brought up the wallabies. She said there was a colony of the small Australian mammals in Kalihi Valley and no one had counted their numbers in a while.

Wait, what?

I’ve lived here seven years and this is the first I’ve heard of this—who’s been holding out on me? There’s a clan of feral, pint-size kangaroos bouncing around Oahu? Get outta here.

But this mythical marsupial seems legit; unlike the sightings of Big Foot, there was proof of the wallabies’ existence, right in our August 1989 issue.

John Heckathorn, the former editor of HONOLULU and a current contributing editor, had written an article, “The Kangaroos of the Koolaus.” The colony of wallabies was estimated, at that time, to be 100 to 250 in number, all descendants of a pair that had escaped from a private collection in 1916.

Illustration: Jing Jing Tsong

The article noted that the wallabies are the size of small dogs, and rarely seen, though one once wandered “onto the second floor of Tripler Medical Center and was given to the Honolulu Zoo.”

By this time, I would have believed anything. But it gets weirder.

Heckathorn had interviewed biologist Skip Lazell, who was studying the wallaby species. In a sidebar, he noted that Lazell had stopped by the magazine’s then-office on Merchant Street with a suspiciously moving burlap sack. Inside was a “cute, real nippy” male wallaby, specimen No. 113, that Lazell had trapped that morning for research. 

Wait; there was a live wallaby in the HONOLULU office?

I called Heckathorn immediately.

“I know this was 20 years ago, but I have to ask: Seriously, you met a wallaby?”

“Yes! They are ferocious little bundles of energy,” Heckathorn said. “That wallaby was not happy.”

Well, sure, poor wallaby. He thought he was about to have a nice fruit snack when boom! Someone threw a bag over his head and toted him downtown for show-and-tell.

“I got to see a wallaby without having to go root around in the brush,” Heckathorn enthused. He noted that Lazell had kept a firm grip on the animal “so he wouldn’t escape and go to Murphy’s,” the bar down the street. 

Since Heckathorn’s article, however, the wallabies have gone AWOL. No one knows how many still exist in Hawaii, since the Department of Land and Natural Resources has not had funding to study the population since the 1990s.

Presumably, No. 113 was returned to the wild shortly after his encounter with HONOLULU. Here’s what I think happened next.

Upon his return to Kalihi Valley, Wally No. 113 brought back some of the mysterious ways of a human office. He gathered his furry tribe and told unto them of fax machines, bifocals and Tupperware. Nodding their fuzzy ears, they soaked in this knowledge, and they evolved. Ensconced in their valley Habitrail for more than 20 years, here’s what they have been up to:

Perfected an herbed potato salad, which has replaced leaves and bark as their main food staple.

Opened a repertory theater. This fall, the wallabies are putting on Guys and Dolls.

Two female wallabies have launched a spa line, offering exquisite natural body care and luxurious, organic lotions, body washes and lip balms in scents such as passion fruit and guava.

Organized a Russell Crowe film festival. Crowe himself attended in 2007, though last year’s headliner was Edward Norton.

Created a wallaby family tree using the free genealogy databases of the Mormon church.

Sadly, it’s not all good news: Two juvenile males were recently arrested for posing as Nigerian scam artists on an e-mail targeting senior citizens.

And what became of wallaby No. 113?

You might see him once in awhile over at Murphy’s.