I’m sure you’ve all been waiting in anticipation for our next blog after the introduction of our newest members of the Arid Recovery family, two female Western Quolls called Sepia and Koombana. We left you hanging, pondering what it is that Sepia and Koombana have been eating.
In the Flinders Ranges quolls are preying on adult rabbits and sheltering in their warrens, however in the feral free Northern Expansion at Arid Recovery, there aren’t any rabbits to feed on. While Koombana and Sepia are living in bettong warrens, it is not yet known if they are eating Burrowing Bettongs, or other native mammals. Koombana and Sepia’s dietary composition is being monitored by collecting and analysing their scats. Just two scats have been found while on scat scavenger hunts surrounding Koombana and Sepia’s nesting sites, so The ARC’s Project Officer Bec West has given the girls a helping hand by creating a public toilet for them to use. Quoll scats donated by the Flinders Ranges population are placed on toothpicks to replicate a latrine, which would be used by quolls in the wild. One of the quolls visited the latrine, had a scout around, but did not leave us a scat treasure!
Quolls are carnivorous marsupials- can you see mammal fur in this scat?
Remote cameras captured one of the inquisitive quolls investigating the human-made latrine site. Western Quoll scats (collected from the Flinders Ranges) are mounted on toothpicks along the top of the log. Credit: Bec West
Discovering quoll scats across the 30 km2 fenced expansion is proving to be much like finding a needle in a haystack. Although named after shipwrecks like the other females released into the Flinders Ranges, Koombana is proving herself to be an exceptional explorer for which the male quolls are named after. Females in the Flinders Ranges have an average home range size of 4 km2 and should have core home ranges with very little overlap with other females. Elsewhere, males released into Francois Peron National Park in Shark Bay moved 30-40 km, some moved more than 100 km from the release site. Bec West had to resort to using a plane to radio-track the pair of quolls from the air in the first few weeks after release as their high mobility and lack of high points on the sand dunes made it very difficult to keep up with them on foot.
Shelter locations for each of the female quolls since release on 06/05/15. Red point displays the first location (release pen) for each quoll and the dotted line indicates locations in date order from that point until 25/08/15. Credit: Bec West
Finding the quolls is difficult enough, so you can imagine trying to find their scats is even harder. Koombana and Sepia were originally fitted with a VHF radio transmitting collar, which is commonly used to radio track the quolls to den sites during the day. We search high and low around these den sites, but still have only found two scats! Western Quolls move swiftly along the ground with their greatest activity through the night. Radio tracking the quolls at night with just a VHF collar is near impossible, but knowing the whereabouts of Koombana and Sepia between their daylight den sites would be of great benefit. Sepia’s collar has been swapped to a VHF collar with GPS so that fixed coordinates of her position at 9 pm, 12 am and 3 am can be downloaded. After two weeks the collar will be swapped to Koombana so that we can piece together a pattern of nocturnal foraging activity which can be used to narrow our scat search area!
Written by Kimberley Solly, Scientific and Education Officer