Trial Release returns SA‐extinct Western Quoll to the Flinders
South Australia’s Flinders Ranges has welcomed the return of the western quoll, made possible through South Australia’s first public/private environmental partnership.
The Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources has partnered with the Foundation for Australia's Most Endangered species (FAME), which is dedicated to helping Australian wildlife most at risk of extinction, to re‐introduce the western quoll to its former homelands in the Flinders.
Last seen in South Australia during the 1880s, the Western Quoll is a small Australian native carnivorous marsupial which once thrived across 80% of the Australian continent. Until the start of the trial re‐introduction project this month, the nation’s western quoll population could only be found in the south‐west of Western Australia where the remnants of the species have been successfully managed and expanded by the Department of Parks and Wildlife.
Expected to bring ecological and tourism benefits to the Flinders Ranges, the western quoll also has great cultural significance for the Adnyamathanha people, for whom the quoll (Idnya) is a totem and an integral part of their Dreaming.
DEWNR’s Regional Manager for Natural Resources SA Arid Lands, Mr Stuart Paul, and FAME spokesperson, Dr David Peacock, said that a trial release of 37 western quolls – 17 males and 20 females – were translocated from their home in Western Australia to the Flinders Ranges during April.
“We are indebted to Western Australia’s Department of Parks and Wildlife which has been instrumental in making this trial re‐introduction possible through the donation of western quolls from their conservation parks.
“The Adnyamathanha people have also embraced the project, welcoming the first quolls back to the region through a traditional blessing ceremony.
“The entire project team is now focused on assisting the introduced animals to make the central Flinders their new home and establish breeding cycles that make their populations self sustaining”
FAME said the re‐introduction of the western quoll to the Flinders Ranges was an ambitious venture that, if successful, would be a major step towards improving its conservation status and ultimately lead to having it removed from threatened species status.
FAME’s role is to lead the drive to raise approximately $1.7 million over a five year period that will support the recovery of the species in one of its former territories.
DEWNR’s role is to manage the project and through its Bounceback program control predators such as foxes and cats, and herbivores such as goats to protect the habitat along the Flinders Ranges that are required to give the quolls the best possible chance of long term survival.
Mr Paul said the project team will be actively monitoring survival rates and the wellbeing of the quolls over the first few months by radio tracking individuals.
“We are cautiously optimistic about the potential success of re‐introducing the quolls, however any project of this scale does come with some risk of mortalities as the animals adapt to their new habitat.
“To maximise the chances of survival, short term control of feral cats within the release area was undertaken in preparation for the re‐introduction trial to give the translocated animals an opportunity to establish shelters and territories unimpeded from the threat of predation by cats. In Western Australia, quolls already co‐exist in habitats with feral cats and their natural survival instincts are expected to give them a fighting chance if and when they encounter cats in the wild.
“Once the re‐introduced quolls have established themselves in their new habitat, trapping will be undertaken to assess their condition and breeding status.”
The re‐introduced animals will take a while to settle in and any decision to proceed with a potential full re‐introduction in 2015 will be made late in 2014 or early 2015 following careful monitoring of the health of all animals introduced into the new habitat and evaluation of the trial’s success.
If there are positive signs of the population re‐establishing itself, then a full re‐introduction will be considered sometime over the course of 2015 and 2016.
Background information about the quoll & partnership
About the western quoll
The western quoll is a small reddish‐grey coloured carnivorous marsupial with white spots on its body and legs. The male has an average weight of 1300 grams and the female weighs around 900 grams.
They make their homes in hollow logs, tunnels under rocks, tree hollows and other animal burrows. They are mostly nocturnal, becoming quite active at dusk and before dawn ‐ however, they can sometimes be seen during the day in forest environments or when climbing trees to forage or escape predators.
Their diet is varied but mainly consists of small mammals up to rabbit size, lizards, frogs and invertebrates. Importantly for the Flinders Ranges, the western quoll has a special place at the top of the native food chain and may have a positive impact on reducing populations of small pest animals (mice, rats and rabbits) if their re‐introduction is successful. Their presence is also an indicator of environmental quality as their survival relies on a healthy food chain.
The female western quoll breeds in its first year, with very few older animals breeding again, and they usually give birth to up to six offspring per pouch. Young quolls are weaned in around five and a half months and their life span in the wild is mostly less than three years.
The western quoll is threatened mainly by foxes and feral cats and they occupy exclusive home ranges of 1500 hectares for males and 400 hectares for females. Some mothers and daughters may overlap in their home ranges.
Bringing home the western quoll is an exciting first for a public‐private environmental partnership in South Australia.
The re‐introduction project brings together the expertise and experience of the not‐for‐profit organisation, the Foundation for Australia's Most Endangered species (FAME) which is dedicated to helping Australian wildlife most at risk of extinction, and South Australia’s Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources’ Bounceback program, an integrated natural resources management program that protects and restores the ecology of the Flinders, Olary and Gawler Ranges in South Australia.
The Bounceback program has been instrumental in the revival of echidna, Yellow‐footed Rock Wallaby and several species of native birds.
FAME has successfully funded more than 30 major endangered wildlife and habitat projects since 1993 through their fundraising efforts.
The involvement of Western Australia’s Department of Parks and Wildlife has also been instrumental in making this trial re‐introduction possible through the supply and translocation of western quolls to South Australia. WA’s Native Animal Rescue organisation, a not for profit wildlife refuge, are also acknowledged for housing, caring and processing the quolls before their transfer to SA.
It is hoped by all project partners that the initial re‐introduction of a small number of the western quolls from WA will be successful in time, with the quoll becoming a self‐sustaining population in the Flinders Ranges.