Conservationists have deployed a high-tech wildlife tracking system to monitor a newly established population of the threatened Western Quoll at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary (on Badimia and Widi Country) in the WA Wheatbelt. Early findings indicate that the quolls are settling into their release area and gaining weight, both of which are positive signs of a successful translocation.
Thirty-four Western Quolls (20 females and 14 males), also known by the Noongar name Chuditch, were translocated to Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s (AWC) Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary in April and June as part of an ambitious wildlife reintroduction program. The quolls were the 10th species to be released at the sanctuary for reintroduction, the greatest number of species ever restored to a single site in Australia. Individuals were sourced by AWC with WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) from wild populations in Julimar State Forest, Greater Kingston National Park and Perup Nature Reserve.
Prior to their release on the northern edge of the 131,800-hectare sanctuary, 16 of the quolls were fitted with VHF radio tracking collars. These collared individuals have since been tracked using a drone specially-equipped with an advanced radio-telemetry system by Wildlife Drones. The drone is flown over the landscape and can detect multiple quolls simultaneously, enabling ecologists to monitor their movements. This is the first time the Wildlife Drones system has been used to monitor Western Quolls. AWC seeks to embrace new technologies that can improve the efficiency and accuracy of the ecological monitoring we conduct.
Sophia Callander, AWC Senior Wildlife Ecologist, said four ecologists received pilot training in the weeks ahead of the translocation which involved learning how to fly the drone and interpret the data collected by the radio telemetry system. Eight weeks after the first release of quolls, the drone has regularly picked up radio signals from 13 of the 16 collared individuals, an excellent result proving the value of this new method.
“In the past, tracking translocated animals has involved hours of walking and searching for collar signals,” Callander said. “The drone, on the other hand, has proven to be a great tool for detecting multiple signals and finding quolls in a much shorter time.”
“We are very happy with how the Western Quolls are tracking. They seem to have established well in their new home. The majority of the quolls have stayed within their release area, although three of the males have been travelling larger distances and visiting neighbouring properties. For the most part, the quolls have been easy to find and trapping individuals has shown that they’re gaining weight as the breeding season continues.”
“Wildlife Drones’ technology is the first drone sensor in the world to enable teams to radio-track many animals at the same time from the air and provide real-time data to teams on the ground,” said Dr Debbie Saunders of Wildlife Drones. “This means the field team can now more easily monitor the quolls’ survival and movements as they roam across the extensive remote landscapes of the sanctuary.”
AWC ecologists also deployed an array of scent-lured camera traps, with the set up of the cameras specially designed to identify individual quolls from the pattern of their spots. The images captured so far are promising, showing clear spots that can be used by the team to identify individuals. This technique was first developed by AWC ecologists at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary in the Kimberley in 2013 and is heavily informed by a PhD study conducted by Mel Taylor of University of Adelaide.
Quoll monitoring will continue at regular intervals throughout the breeding season to check and adjust radio collars as needed and check the pouch status of the females.
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