Year of the Quoll

Nathan Beerkens - Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Year of the Quoll – A reintroduction update

By Nathan Beerkens

2018 was a big year. After two years of trials and research, it was time to officially reintroduce Western Quolls to the Arid Recovery Reserve.

In May, it happened. 12 quolls made the journey back to the outback, eight females and four males.

Western Quolls used to live across 70% of the Australian continent, but now survive in less than 2% of that. Ten of our quolls came from Western Australia (Dryandra and Julimar), and two came from a recently reintroduced population in South Australia’s Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park.

A western quoll with a radio-collar and eartag. Photo: Melissa Jensen

So, how have they gone? In short - very well.

Before the release, all of the quolls were fitted with radio-collars, so that we could track their movements and learn as much as possible about how they survive in the arid landscape.

Since then, we have tracked them to over 400 locations. Quolls are nocturnal, so we normally find the burrows they are using, rather than the quolls themselves (although one day we found two quolls mating under a bush in broad daylight!).

Almost every time we find a quoll, it is sleeping in a bettong warren. Interestingly, these warrens often still have bettongs in them. Using bettong warrens allows the quolls to escape the scorching desert heat and hide from diurnal predators such as wedge-tailed eagles. They have also occasionally been found using bilby burrows. Most of the warrens they have been found in are on sand dunes with Acacia and Dodonaea shrubs, but they have also used warrens in mulga patches, saltbush swales and dry canegrass swamps.

Bettong warren on a sand dune - the most common shelter type used by quolls at Arid Recovery. Ruler placed at burrow entrance for scale. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

From all this tracking, we’ve been able to map their home ranges. The biggest is over 3,000 hectares (for one of our males). The smallest home range, from a female, is still large at over 800 hectares. You can see the home ranges for two of our females below (over 1,000 and 1,400 hectares each).

The home ranges of two female quolls; 'Andamooka' (yellow - 1445 ha) and 'Mulgaria' (blue - 1074 ha). This map was created from all data obtained for each quoll from date of release to October 22 2018. Initial post-release dispersal may mean that the home ranges displayed are overestimates of their current range. Further refinement and data analysis is underway. Image copyright Arid Recovery.

We’re also happy to report that no quolls have entered the Main Exclosure – a 14km2 pen which is separated from the rest of the Reserve by floppy-topped fencing, foot-netting and two electric wires. By keeping this pen quoll-free, we can compare the abundance of our other reintroduced animals, (such as western barred bandicoots and stick-nest rats), in areas with and without quolls to see if they have any impacts. A lot of effort has gone into keeping this fence operational. We’d like to say thanks to the two teams from Conservation Volunteers Australia who replaced kilometres of old foot-netting this year.

Conservation Volunteers Australia team rolling out foot-netting to 'quoll-proof' the Main Exclosure. Photo: Kathryn Hastie.

Followers of our social media accounts will also know that our quolls have been breeding. There are 30 babies in total, with five mother quolls having six each. The adults began mating almost immediately after arriving at Arid Recovery in May, with their babies born in June and July – western quolls are pregnant for only 18 days!

Since then, the young have been living with their mothers in bettong warrens and are now starting to explore the Reserve on their own. We’ve put radio-collars on 10 of them, so that we can see what they get up to (five males and five females, from three families). At the same time, we’re taking collars off the adults. The babies’ collars will fall off by themselves.

Quoll population trends will continue to be monitored through our quarterly track counts, which is how we monitor all of our reintroduced species, with the addition of spot identification from camera trap images. Each quoll has a unique pattern of spots so volunteers can help us identify individual quolls from photos taken by Reconyx camera traps, which we received thanks to a grant from the Wettenhall Environment Trust.

The first baby captured and tagged; a young male nicknamed Bowie. Photo: Melissa Jensen

There’s still so much to learn and we will be studying quolls and their interactions with other species for a long time to come.

For now though, it’s seven months into the program and we’re very pleased with how it’s gone.

Another big thank you to everyone who has volunteered their time and supported the reintroduction. Special shout-out to our interns and long-term volunteers -  Ben Stepkovitch, Kirra Bailey, Samantha Bryson-Kirby, Kaely Kreger, Finella Dawlings, Brianna Coulter and Anna Rogers - who have put a lot of time and effort into tracking and trapping these beautiful and elusive predators.

Stay tuned for more.

Intern Anna Rogers bagging quoll scat for diet analysis. Photo: Melissa Jensen

Our Secret to a Long Life

Nathan Beerkens - Thursday, November 15, 2018

Our Secret to a Long Life

By Kath Tuft

We recently won an award for one of our most incredible but ordinary-sounding achievements; just hanging around for 20 years!

The Roxby Downs Business Longevity Awards was a swish evening where local businesses gathered to celebrate sticking it out in Roxby Downs and Olympic Dam, and share their stories of endurance and success. It might seem tokenistic, but it is no small feat.  And the key to Arid Recovery’s success is the unwavering commitment from our founders and partners; BHP, the SA Department for Environment and Water, the University of Adelaide and most recently, Bush Heritage Australia.

Roxby Downs Business Longevity Awards 2018; Nicole Montgomerie (BHP), Hannah Bannister (UNSW), Melissa Jensen (Arid Recovery), Milly Breward (Arid Recovery), Kath Tuft (Arid Recovery) & Andrew Winterfield (BHP). Photo: Mike Nelson.

It is generally easier to get funding for something new and exciting, compared to “old stories” or ongoing efforts. “Help us keep things ticking along” is not a great sales pitch. Indeed, there are at least four other fenced reserves similar to Arid Recovery that were built on a surge of enthusiasm but that have quietly fallen to pieces over the years - losing their animals and so much of their hard work forgotten – because the ongoing commitment faltered for various reasons. 

Our longevity as a small not-for-profit conservation organisation way out in the desert is due in large part to the consistent support of our corporate partner BHP, and WMC before them. We have never had to invest large chunks of income back into raising more funds. Keeping Arid Recovery running is no small thing - all the fence maintenance it requires, the people needed to be available 24/7 to respond to incursions, carefully guiding reintroductions, and coordinating all the fantastic volunteers who want to contribute. None of that is possible without a consistent commitment of support.

Also critical to our long term success are our founders John Read and Katherine Moseby who have stayed with us through thick and thin. John worked as an environmental scientist at the Olympic Dam mine in the 1990s, and Katherine worked as an ecologist in the region. Together, their enthusiasm for the project inspired many Roxby Downs locals and businesses to volunteer their time and services to construct the first fence and do the first reintroductions. Their institutional knowledge continues to assist us on a weekly basis. Read more about their stories here.

Arid Recovery's founders; John Read and Katherine Moseby.

Olympic Dam also celebrates a milestone this year – with BHP marking 30 years of operation. I had the pleasure of meeting BHP’s other South Australian community partners at an event last week: the Art Gallery of South Australia, Kokatha Aboriginal Corporation and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. We talked about the great work they are doing and flagged some interesting collaborations we could pursue. This year we’re working with Kokatha to ramp up control of introduced predators on Kokatha land around the Arid Recovery Reserve, aiming to have that country support bettongs, bilbies and quolls again one day.

We’re looking forward to catching up with many of you at the Roxby Downs Family Day celebration this Saturday. As our community marks 30 years of Olympic Dam and the Roxby Downs community, I want to thank BHP for their consistent and generous support of Arid Recovery over the years and look forward to all that we’ll achieve together in the next 30.

Isle of the Stickies

Nathan Beerkens - Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Isle of the Stickies

By Nathan Beerkens

This is a story of adventure and discovery. A story of hope and success. A story of rats.

Almost 30 years ago, to save the species, greater stick-nest rats (aka. ‘stickies’) were reintroduced to Reevesby Island, off the coast of Port Lincoln, South Australia. Question is though; are they still there?

A recent survey team (not looking for stick-nest rats) reported that they didn’t see any sign of them. Not good.

If stickies have disappeared from Reevesby, then that is a major blow to the global population, which exists on only a few islands and mainland fenced reserves.

Reevesby Island. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

So, last week, the Arid Recovery team, alongside the Department for Environment and Water’s Peter Copley, went down to the island to survey them. Why Arid Recovery? Well, stickies were reintroduced to the Arid Recovery Reserve in 1998 from Reevesby (and are still going well). So, it was fitting that we help to keep tabs on our source population. As for Peter Copley, he is the foremost authority on stick-nest rats and a key reason why they were reintroduced to Reevesby Island in the first place.

Team ready, we headed to the island. We were looking for any sign that they were still alive. These could be tracks, scats, runways through bushes, stick-nest homes, or in the best case scenario, live stickies. To find live animals, we had Elliott traps and spotlights.

Elliott trap set in the vegetation. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

We covered the whole island (420ha) in our search and found many different types of animals. Some of these were very close encounters, including three death adders next to our tents, black tiger snakes slithering through camp and a white-faced storm petrel which flew into ecologist Georgie Neave’s face. There were also boisterous colonies of little penguins, families of Cape Barren geese, flocks of rock parrots and barn owls nesting on the coastal cliffs.

Death Adder. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

But were there any stickies?

Our Elliott traps revealed two species of mammals; house mice and…stick-nest rats! We found plentiful signs of stickies all over the island. There were runways through the plants, scats in the old homestead and tracks on the beach. Their characteristic stick-nests were also common, built around the base of tall shrubs.

Stickie tracks on the beach. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

While we caught a few using Elliott traps, spotlighting proved very effective, and by the end of the survey we had caught and measured 19 stickies. We also took samples of their ectoparasites (mites, ticks and fleas), and DNA for future studies. The fleas are an interesting one; it’s thought that these island stickies have a unique species of flea, which may have followed them to Arid Recovery… Did we translocate an endangered flea to the desert?? Studies will tell.

Stickie being released. Photo: Kath Tuft/Arid Recovery

All up, it was a very successful week, for both science and the stickies. It is a great relief to know that this vital population is still going strong. Hopefully it will continue to be monitored and can be used as a source for more reintroductions in the years to come.

Reevesby Island survey team: Georgie Neave, Kath Tuft, Melissa Jensen, Nathan Beerkens and Peter Copley. Photo: Melissa Jensen

Building a Stickie Haven

Nathan Beerkens - Friday, August 17, 2018

Building a Stickie Haven

By Nathan Beerkens

This year, Arid Recovery turns 21. And, for the first time in its history, the Research Station has been fenced off.

We've done this for two reasons:

Reason 1: Keep the bettongs out.

Our burrowing bettongs are notoriously cheeky animals that will investigate anything. They are endlessly curious and have no issues about coming onto our deck in the hope of sniffing out dinner. Whilst this is, admittedly, very cute, it's not what we want. We don't want these animals to be habituated to humans. We want them to be wild and fend for themselves, which they will have to be to survive outside fenced reserves again.

Bettong investigating a camp oven. Photo: Kath Tuft

What's the easiest way to solve this problem? Fence them out. We operate the largest fenced reserve in the country...there's plenty of other spaces for them to explore.

(It's also important to note that no matter how much they've tried, or how cute they've looked, we've never fed them!)

Emily Gregg and a curious bettong on the Research Station deck.

Reason 2: Promote the stickies.

Our stick-nest rats (lovingly referred to as stickies) are one of the rarest of our reintroduced mammals and are very shy creatures. There's also a family of them that live under the Research Station. Sometimes they even join us for late-night showers in the outhouse.

Stickie in the outhouse shower. Photo: Melissa Jensen

They've been declining in the reserve recently as bettongs have become overpopulated. They also suffer from a lot of bad press, just because they are called 'rats' (even though they're great!). This new fenced area gives us a great opportunity to show people first-hand how fabulous stickies are and that rats aren't scary.

The holes in the wire mesh of the fence are too small for bettongs, but big enough for stickies to come and go as they please. We've also replanted a lot of native species that stickies love, to try and attract them into our new "garden". Soon, people joining us for one of our Sunset Tours will have a better chance than ever to see stickies up close and personal and see just how cool these rats really are.

Re-planting natives in the new garden.

How did we fund this?

Thanks to you. Last year we ran a social media campaign called #StickieSeptember, introducing people to stick-nest rats and showing off all of their home-building prowess and grand designs.

This campaign was picked up by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers, and led to a huge influx of stickie adoptions and donations by the public to build this stickie haven. Until this campaign, stickies were by far our least popular animal to adopt.

So thank you again to all of the people who supported this effort, and thank you to the Roxby Downs locals who came out to build the fence last Sunday. We encourage everyone to come out and see the final product in person.

Volunteers hard at work fencing off the Research Station (the outhouse is in the background).

Meet the Kowari

Nathan Beerkens - Friday, August 03, 2018

Meet the Kowari

By Nathan Beerkens

What if I told you there was an animal like no other?

An animal the size of your hand that pronks like a gazelle, has a tail that’s half antenna/half paintbrush, smells like a mop and has a wet button nose the colour of a rose?

What if I told you that this animal was a feisty hunter that lives in some of the harshest and most desolate landscapes on Earth?

What if I told you this animal was real?

Well it is. Meet the Kowari.

Kowari (Dasyuroides byrnei). Photo: Nathan Beerkens

This is a truly fantastic beast that lives in the Sturt Stony Desert, deep in outback South Australia and Queensland. It’s elusive, it’s shy and it’s very hard to find.

And it’s getting rarer. First discovered by western science in 1895, it has disappeared from the Northern Territory and from many sites in both SA and QLD. Worryingly, once it disappears from a site, it struggles to return. This is different to similar species in the area, like the crest-tailed mulgara, which have been travelling hundreds of kilometres over the past 25 years and recolonising their old homes.

Kowari distribution (Adapted from Woinarski et al. 2012). Grey = bioregions that kowaris exist in. Red = places they've disappeared from (not recorded since before 1993). Green = records since 1993.

More worrying still, the kowaris has also been declining in its remaining strongholds, so much so that it should probably be classified as Endangered (paper by Greenville et al. to be published soon in the Australian Journal of Zoology).

So, how do you conserve an animal that is found on no national parks in SA, no fenced reserves anywhere, lives in the most barren landscapes in the middle of nowhere and that virtually no-one has ever heard of?

It’s going to need a lot of collaborations. This need has driven the formation of a new Kowari Group, made up of scientists and land managers involved with this elusive animal. They are from a diverse mix of government, pastoralism, not-for profit organisations, consultants and universities, and are putting their heads together to conserve kowaris.

The vast gibber landscape of the Sturt Stony Desert. Photo: Alison Skinner.

The remaining South Australian populations (all on pastoral land) have been closely surveyed by the South Australian Department for Environment and Water for the past two decades. The Queensland Department of Environment and Science and Australian Wildlife Conservancy are monitoring kowari populations in Queensland’s Diamantina and Astrebla Downs National Parks. Researchers at the University of Sydney are piecing all the information together to measure how drastically the kowari numbers have fallen and are working with the Kowari Group to find out why they are struggling to return to their old habitats.

Kowari in it's gibber habitat. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

Arid Recovery is also taking part. Joining a SA Department for Environment and Water kowari survey in May this year, we were able to view the plight of the kowari first-hand. In the future, bringing kowaris to Arid Recovery (which is on the edge of their former range) provides a feral-free sanctuary and an opportunity to learn about what they need to survive in other areas. If a secure population can be established at Arid Recovery, it could then be used to bolster dwindling wild populations and restock locally extinct ones.

We’re all working together, exploring all the options to try and save this wonderful, weird, spunky and adorable Aussie battler.

It’s not an icon yet, but it should be.

Kowari survey team May 2018; Rob Brandle, Hamish Longbottom, Kath Tuft, Tali Moyle, Cat Lynch, Amanda McLean, Billy La Marca, Alison Skinner & Nathan Beerkens.

Community Update

Nathan Beerkens - Tuesday, July 10, 2018

It’s a Community Effort

By Nathan Beerkens

In between chasing quolls and fixing fences, Arid Recovery also does a lot of community engagement. This blog is going to talk about some of our activities in the past few months.

Dads and Kids Event

What a great event this was. Teaming up with local community groups Strengthening Our Families and Mining Minds, we hosted 35 Dads and Kids on the Reserve with activities like scavenger hunts, GPS orienteering, races, campfires, BBQ dinner and spotlighting. We’re happy to report that the kids slept really well that night! Given its popularity, we’ll be hosting another event soon...keep an eye out for dates.

Marshmallows on sticks were a favourite. Photo: Kaely Kreger

Wildlife, Cake and Cocktails

Our Principal Scientist, Katherine Moseby, featured on the new podcast Wildlife, Cake and Cocktails, talking about the successes of Arid Recovery and arid-zone conservation over the past 20 years in a special episode about the Book of Hope. This is a new book by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub, full of inspirational Australian conservation success stories. Listen here, our feature starts at 24:18.

Listen to the podcast on Soundcloud here.

School and University Camps

We have recently hosted camps for the Coober Pedy Area School and University of Adelaide Law School. For the Coober Pedy Year 7/8 class, it was a chance to learn bush skills like tracking and GPS, whilst the University's visit gave budding lawyers a taste of life in the bush. For many, this was their first time camping, using outhouses and having no Vodafone reception. The students watch how we work, live as we live and meet some real country characters. We hope it not only pushed their boundaries, but gave them a great experience while doing so.

University of Adelaide Law School.

Totally Wild

We have featured on kids TV show Totally Wild! We're appearing in three episodes, talking about what its like to work at Arid Recovery, our bettongs and stick-nest rats. The bettong episode will air Saturday August 18 at 8.30am and feature Holly Cope, a PhD student from the University of Sydney studying bettong contraception. This will be followed by the stick-nest rat episode on Tuesday August 21 at 8am. The first episode has already aired and you can watch it here. Our segment starts at 19:46.

Watch our first Totally Wild episode here.

North West Pastoral Field Day

We joined forces with Bush Heritage Australia to host a stall at the SA Department of Environment and Water’s Pastoral Field Day in the small town of Glendambo, SA. 230 people descended upon the town of two petrol stations and a pub and it was a great opportunity to network with local landholders and talk about our conservation and research activities. We also hosted a workshop for School of the Air students, to teach them about outback wildlife and snake safety.

Big turnout at the Glendambo Pastoral Field Day.


And our tours are as popular as ever. The grey nomad migration is in full swing, with people coming from far and wide to witness Lake Eyre filling and explore the Northern Territory. Our Olympic Dam Discovery Tour buses are full and there have been many people joining us for Sunset Tours to find our rare wildlife up close. Thanks also to the people who have begun leaving reviews on our TripAdvisor, we really appreciate it.

Burrowing bettongs are always exciting to see on a Sunset Tour. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

Raving for Science

Nathan Beerkens - Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Raving for Science

By Natasha Tay, Murdoch University

Ever thought you’d spend two weeks in the bush giving bettongs rave party feet and putting them on a runway for science? Well that’s how I spent this Mad May.

My PhD investigates anti-predator behaviour in marsupials, focuses on how anatomy affects their physical ability to escape from predators. We know that introduced predators are a major threat to our native fauna outside of fenced areas. Critical weight range marsupials (35g – 5.5kg), like bandicoots and bettongs, are especially vulnerable as they are the perfect size for cats and foxes to chomp on. Lots of work in Australian has focused on whether our marsupials recognise cats and foxes as predators, and then trying to teach our fauna to be more ‘predator-savvy’. Arid Recovery’s prey naivety project is a great example of this. But recognising a potential predator is only the first step - how the prey species responds to an interaction with that predator will ultimately determine their survival.

Burrowing bettong. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

Imagine you’re a marsupial and a hungry predator has its eye on you. It’s getting a bit too close for comfort so you decide to flee - but how? You really only have two options: you either outrun your attacker or outmanoeuvre it.

Over the past year I have been studying the anatomy of marsupials to determine their locomotor ability. I do this by analysing the size and shape of their muscles and bones. To proof my anatomical findings, I am recording how these same species move in the field.

At Arid Recovery, I released burrowing bettongs and western barred bandicoots down a runway to determine how fast they could flee and what type of path they would take - a straight bolt, or would they zig-zag in an attempt to confuse/outmanoeuvre the predator? Watch a video here.

To track each animal’s escape path I used fluorescent powder for foot prints and also filmed the runway from multiple angles.

Bettong foot being covered in UV dust. Photo: Melissa Jensen

UV bettong footprints in the sand. Photo: Natasha Tay

As my PhD progresses, I will be adding more species to my fieldwork list. If you’d like to keep updated on my PhD progress, please visit the Western WEB page.

Thanks very much to the staff and volunteers at Arid Recovery who assisted me with fieldwork.

Q&A - Reintroducing Quolls

Nathan Beerkens - Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Q&A - Bringing back Quolls!

By Nathan Beerkens, Katherine Moseby and Kath Tuft

In one week, 10 Western Quolls (Dasyurus geoffroii) will be reintroduced to the Arid Recovery Reserve from Western Australia. They will be followed by an additional two quolls from the Ikara-Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

This reintroduction is the result of a lot of hard work and close interstate collaboration between Arid Recovery, the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) and the SA Department for Environment and Water (DEW).

In this blog, we will answer some important questions about why we have chosen Western Quolls to be the next species reintroduced to our reserve and its implications.

What is a Western Quoll?

The Western Quoll is one of the largest carnivorous marsupials still extant on the Australian mainland.  It is unique and more closely related to a Papua New Guinean quoll (Dasyurus spartacus – the Bronze Quoll) than any of Australia’s species. It is also the only arid-adapted quoll and once occurred in the area around Arid Recovery. Read more about the world’s six quoll species here.

The Western Quoll is threatened with extinction.  Due to habitat clearing and alteration and predation by introduced foxes and feral cats, they survive in just 2% of their former range, which once covered 70% of Australia. As such, they are nationally listed as Vulnerable, and are a priority species for recovery by 2020 under the Federal Government’s Threatened Species Strategy.

Western Quoll. Photo: Katherine Moseby

Why are we reintroducing quolls to Arid Recovery?

There are several reasons why we are reintroducing the quolls to Arid Recovery. Firstly, as a top order predator they will hopefully perform a regulatory role in the reserve by preying on the burgeoning small mammal and Burrowing Bettong populations. These species are known prey items for the Western Quoll and are currently at high densities due to the low number of native predators in the reserve. Reintroducing a predator to the ecosystem will help recreate a balanced and entire natural ecosystem and more closely resemble pre-European settlement.

Another reason for reintroducing quolls is to improve the anti-predator response of our native species. Many of the species that we have reintroduced, such as stick-nest rats and bandicoots, come from offshore islands where they have been isolated from predators for thousands of years. Anti-predator behaviour can be lost quickly from island species leading to “island syndrome” where animals lose their fear response to predators. Placing animals into fenced reserves can exacerbate this making it hard to ever release animals out into areas where there are introduced predators. Reintroducing a native predator will hopefully improve the anti-predator response of our native species and help Arid Recovery achieve our goal of having animals beyond the fence.

Finally, releasing quolls may assist with the national conservation of the species by providing source populations for other release sites. Although Arid Recovery is probably too small to support a genetically viable population, we will be working with other organisations to conduct genetic swaps and manage the population at a national level.  

Western Quoll being released during our trials. Photo: Karrissa Harring-Harris

Can they survive here?

Trials conducted by Dr Rebecca West and Dr Katherine Moseby found that the answer is a resounding yes. There’s plenty of food and shelter at Arid Recovery and quolls can successfully reproduce. In 2015, two females were introduced to the reserve as a trial. They survived and found suitable shelter and food, so in 2016 two males were released. One of the females fell pregnant and gave birth to four young. Two of those babies were translocated to the Flinders Ranges and a third remains in the reserve and has grown into a healthy adult.

The adult offspring of our trial quolls, alive and well in the Arid Recovery Reserve. Photo: Arid Recovery

Can we monitor them after release?

Yes, all of the quolls will be radio-collared and tracked every day by a dedicated Reintroduction Technical Officer. Our RTO, Melissa Jensen, is exceptionally qualified for the job, having conducted a PhD on the Western Quolls reintroduced to the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park in South Australia by DEW and the Foundation for Australia's Most Endangered Species (FAME). The quolls will also be monitored with track transects, cage trapping, and camera traps.

Melissa Jensen weighing bettongs at Arid Recovery. Photo: Kath Tuft

What will they eat?

Since quolls are carnivores, they will prey upon the native species within the reserve. During our trials, we monitored what the quolls were eating through scat analysis. They mostly ate rodents (spinifex hopping mice), but also preyed on bettongs, bandicoots and invertebrates. Monitoring suggested that these species were not adversely impacted by the quolls.

Spinifex Hopping Mouse. Photo: Darcy Whittaker

Are Arid Recovery’s threatened species at risk?

No. We will be keeping 14km2 of our reserve ‘quoll-proof’, to ensure that bandicoots and stick-nest rats are protected. The Main Exclosure has been made quoll-proof through floppy-top fencing, electric wires and foot-netting (preventing animals digging holes underneath). Our threatened species will be closely monitored after the quoll release through track transects, nest monitoring and camera traps, both inside and outside the quoll-proof exclosure.

A team from Conservation Volunteers Australia laying foot-netting to 'quoll-proof' the Main Exclosure. Photo: Kathryn Hastie

What about bettongs?

Arid Recovery’s population of Burrowing Bettongs is overabundant (read here). We know from our trials that quolls will eat bettongs, which will help to naturally control their population. Increasing the predation pressure on bettongs may also teach them better behaviours to avoid predators, potentially improving their survival chances outside of fences.

A naive Burrowing Bettong. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

Will quolls help the ecosystem?

Yes. For the past 21 years, the Arid Recovery Reserve has had no large mammalian predator (except in our experimental feral paddocks). Bringing in the Western Quoll will reintroduce a keystone predator into the system and hopefully help to lower the bettong population to sustainable levels. This will reduce pressure on the native vegetation, providing more food and habitat for other species like the stick-nest rat. The changes to the ecosystem might look something like the famous Yellowstone wolves  scenario, where bringing back wolves helped to control overabundant elk, which then let the vegetation grow back and other species like beavers thrive. Even rivers changed their course as the effect of this keystone predator cascaded through the ecosystem. Watch a video on it here, it’s an incredible story.

The Arid Recovery Reserve. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

When does it start?

8th May 2018

Stay tuned to find out how it goes!

How can I help?

You can help us cover a quoll's airfare and radiocollar by adopting a quoll or making a donation.

In the coming months we will be looking for helpers with keen eyes to identify juvenile quolls from their spot patterns as they emerge from their dens and are recorded on camera traps.

MEDIA ENQUIRIES: We ask media outlets to hold off reporting on this story until after the reintroduction has taken place. We will distribute a media release on the 9th of May with the full story and photos of the quolls as they explore their new home.

Education Centre opens

Admin Aridrecovery - Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Education Centre Opens

Over two years in the making, a new Education Centre is at last open on the Arid Recovery Reserve.

The Centre contains a large classroom space, two bunkrooms and a bathroom. Visiting school children, university students, professional groups, friends and families can now get out of the heat, the wind and the flies to listen to presentations, get into crafts, work through exercises, or even watch a movie. We can now sleep up to 18 people on the reserve. Maybe most notable of all: the reserve now has a flushing toilet – how about that for creature comforts!

Andrew Harris (BHP) and Eddie Hughes MP officially open the Education Centre. Photo: Kathryn Hollingworth

This is possibly the cheapest Education Centre ever built in South Australia, and we’re proud of that. It has truly been a community effort. The buildings were donated by the Roxby Downs Caravan Park in 2015 and moved into place by Toll, where they sat idle for a time until we raised the funds to do them up.

Old portable buildings were donated by the Roxby Downs Caravan Park in 2015 and sat idle on the reserve before we could raise the funds to do them up.


Thanks to the support of our community and friends in the Far North, we received state government funding through Fund My Idea to turn the Education Centre into a reality. With some extra funding provided by BHP, we were able to engage builder Ashley Stevens to join the long skinny buildings together to make a larger classroom. It wasn’t a particularly nice job working with these old portable buildings, but he did stellar work making them into a solid new structure.

You have to break eggs to make an omelette. Here our builder has joined two buildings together and begins the task of gutting them to make the classroom.

Several local businesses contributed their time and services to the renovations, including Mossy Electrical, Balaklava Stitch Joint, Minetech and Spotless. Roxby Downs District Rotary Club members came out on working bees, along with other volunteers from the community and further afield. We were very fortunate to meet Lionel and Sylvia, a volunteer couple who stopped in with us for three weeks to paint the centre and add all the little trimmings.

Hard working volunteers put their backs into digging a trench to connect the new centre to the solar power system.

Volunteers Lionel and Sylvia did an amazing job painting the inside walls and adding all the trimmings.

Spotless donated their time to paint the outside.


Thanks to all our friends and supporters in the Roxby community and beyond. We look forward to hosting you at the new Education Centre sometime soon.


The finished classroom. Artworks are displayed from science-arts workshops held throughout the year with the support of Inspiring South Australia.

Annual Trapping 2018

Nathan Beerkens - Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Annual Trapping 2018

By Kirra Bailey & Ben Stepkovitch

Annual trapping occurs in the start of March each year, with the session occurring for 5 consecutive days. 2018 marked the 20th year that Arid Recovery has conducted annual pitfall trapping, alternating each year between dune and swale sites, both inside and outside the reserve.

It cannot be done without a small army of staff, interns and volunteers. This year we had 19 people, split across 4 teams, including staff from Arid Recovery, Bush Heritage Australia, the SA Department for Environment and Water (DEW), Mulligan’s Flat Woodland Sanctuary and BHP Olympic Dam and volunteers.


Our staff and volunteers hard at work. Photos: Nathan Beerkens

This year, we were trapping on the dunes. Our first day started with setting up a low fence-line running through the middle of our pitfall traps, which thankfully have already been dug in for us. Each site consisted of two lines of pitfalls with six pitfall holes on each line. This year, for the first time, we also trialed putting false floors in the bottom of pits - to provide reptiles a place to hide from any mammals that were also caught.

A false floor ready to be placed in a pitfall trap. Photo: Nathan Beerkens.

After each site was set up, the lids of each pit were removed, ready for critters to fall on in. Each site was checked for all animals and invertebrates in the early mornings at sunrise and in the late afternoon as the sun was setting. All vertebrates caught in the traps were placed in individual catch bags and then taken back to the lab for processing. Processing of the animals involved determining sex, measuring their body parts and weighing each individual animal. After being processed, the animals were kept safe in the lab until evening and were released at the same site they were captured.

Left to right: Plains mouse (Pseudomys australis); volunteer Kristi Lee with a juvenile sand monitor (Varanus gouldii). Photos: Ben Stepkovitch.

Every annual trapping session that we conduct each year is just as important as the next as it provides Arid Recovery with accurate long-term data. This allows comparisons between the abundance and diversity of the small mammals and reptiles found inside and outside the reserve to be made over time. This in turn can help determine whether specific animals are doing better in specific places.

Left to right:  Central Knob-tailed gecko (Nephrurus levis); Burton’s legless lizard (Lialis burtonis). Photos: Nathan Beerkens.

This year we caught and released a whopping total of 719 animals (including 563 individual animals, as some were recaptured during the session). There were 420 reptiles and 299 mammals, consistent with previous years trends of capturing more reptiles than mammals. We also caught 462 invertebrates.

Three species of very similar-looking geckos in the lab for processing. Left to right: Beaked gecko (Rhynchoedura eyrensis), beaded gecko (Lucasium damaeum) and crowned gecko (Lucasium stenodactylum). Photo: Sophie Wilkins.

The two main species of mammals caught were spinifex hopping mice (246) and plains mice (49). We caught more hopping mice and less plains mice this year compared to last year as hopping mice prefer to inhabit dune systems and plains mice prefer swales. The most common reptile, with 185 captures, was also a dune-specialist – the southern sandslider (Lerista labialis)

More friendly faces enjoying their annual trapping experience: Jonathan Vosser and intern Kirra Bailey. Photos: Ben Stepkovitch & Sophie Wilkins.

Arid Recovery would like to express gratitude towards all the volunteers who came to help out. Without them, it wouldn’t have been possible. Also, a special shout-out to the Roxby Downs children who gave up their weekend to join us...we see some great budding ecologists there!


Year of the Quoll
12 Dec, 2018
Year of the Quoll – A reintroduction update By Nathan Beerkens 2018 was a big year. After two years of trials and research ( .. ..
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Arid recovery is a conservation initiative supported by:
adelaide university