Under the darkness of the night on May 6th two female Western Quolls (Dasyurus geoffroii) were released into the Arid Recovery Reserve. Koombana and Sepia (named after WA shipwrecks) were wild caught from Menjimup and Julimar respectively in Western Australia and were among 37 other quolls who travelled to the Flinders Ranges, where quolls are currently being re-introduced. They had already travelled a lengthy journey from Western Australia including a 9 hour flight to Wilpena Pound and a 4.5 hour drive to Roxby Downs. These nocturnal carnivores were released at night to minimise stress levels and to maximise the period available to familiarise themselves with their new home.
Sepia captured outside her burrow in the release pen on night 3. Credit: Bec West
The Western Quoll or chuditch as it’s known in Western Australia is one of four extant species of quoll found in Australia. There are also two other living quoll species found in Papua New Guinea! Some refer to quolls as native cats, as they are medium sized carnivores with males of the Western Quoll species weighing up to 1.3 kg, while females weigh up to 900 g. Quolls have a distinctive coat which is rusty-brown to grey colour with the Western Quoll having up to 60 whitish spots along their body, but none on their tail.
Koombana and Sepia are being used as native in situ predators as part of the current Australian Research Council Linkage project with the University of NSW to see if they can improve the anti-predator responses in our re-introduced mammals (Burrowing Bettong, Greater Stick-nest Rat, Western Barred Bandicoot and Greater Bilby). Three of the four re-introduced species at the Arid Recovery Reserve were extinct on mainland Australia and the primary reason for their demise and difficulty re-introducing them outside of fenced reserves is that they have an inability to mount effective anti-predator responses (Moseby et al. 2011). The ARC project aims to improve the survival of native mammal species by exploring prey naivety to introduced predators (cat) and trialing native predators (quolls) as a means of improving anti-predator responses.
Whilst Arid Recovery isn’t looking to re-introduce Western Quolls just yet, Koombana and Sepia are pioneers of a potential future re-introduction. A long term goal of Arid Recovery has been to re-introduce a native predator to moderate herbivore populations and reflect a natural ecosystem. While we have reptile and bird predators, we are yet to return any mammalian predators to the Reserve. The ARC Project Officer Bec West will be closely monitoring Koombana and Sepia for the first 10 months, whereupon a review of the trial will decide whether the quolls are having a detrimental impact on the threatened species within the Reserve. If they are found to be having a negative impact on populations they will be relocated to the Flinders Ranges with the rest of the newly formed quoll population, if not they will be left in situ to form part of a longer term study at the Arid Recovery Reserve.
Sepia having a health check-up! Credit: Kaarissa Harring-Harris
To survive quolls require about 104-140 g of food per day, feeding primarily on invertebrates and opportunistically on mammals, birds, and reptiles (Gaikhorst 2008; Glen et al 2010; Orell and Morris 1994). Historically Western Quolls would have likely been important predators in the arid zone, controlling populations of invertebrate and vertebrate prey species. Trialing the release of quolls into Arid Recovery is the beginning point for detecting potential impacts that may result from returning a native predator to the ecosystem.
Koombana and Sepia have settled nicely into the Reserve, stay tuned to find out how we know what the quolls are eating!
Written By: Kimberley Solly, Scientific and Education Officer
Gaikhirst, G. (2008). Chuditch Animal Management Guidelines Perth Zoo. Perth.
Glen, A.S., Wayne, A., Maxwell, M. and Cruz, J. (2010). Comparative diets of the chuditch, a threatened marsupial carnivore, in the northern and southern jarrah forests, Western Australia. Journal of Zoology 282, 276-283.
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Copley, P., Hill, B.M. and Crisp, H.M. (2011) Predation determines the outcome
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DOI information: 10.1016/j.biocon.2011.08.003, 3-SEP-2011
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