News from the Field, Press Release

Four vulnerable quolls born to Western Australian sanctuary

17 Apr. 2024
AWC

Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) is celebrating the sighting of four juvenile Western Quolls at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary on Badimia country in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt. The young individuals are the first independent quolls born on the sanctuary in around 100 years.

AWC ecologists were sifting through thousands of motion-sensor camera images when they came across four small Western Quolls, also known by the Noongar name Chuditch, tampering with cat traps. Unable to get their hands on the individuals, the team turned to an innovative ID system, checking their unique spot patterns to confirm their newly born status.

 

Four juvenile Western Quolls have been recorded at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary, the first independent young born on the sanctuary in over 100 years. AWC
Four juvenile Western Quolls have been recorded at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary, the first independent young quolls born on the sanctuary in over 100 years.

 

“We had a mysterious case of cat trap tampering whereby the traps were closed, the bait was gone but no culprit inside,” explained AWC Field Ecologist, Erin Barritt. “We deployed motion-sensor cameras to find out what was going on and sure enough, we found small quolls eating the bait and using their petite size to escape the traps.”

“We suspected that the small individuals may be new arrivals to the sanctuary, and so we compared their unique spot pattern against a reference library of all 45 quolls that were released at Mt Gibson over the last 12 months. It’s a bit like picking out constellations, except the points twist, turn and stretch depending on the quoll’s position.”

 

Busted! The young quolls were discovered by ecologists searching for the culprits behind cat trap tampering. AWC
Busted! The young quolls were discovered by ecologists searching for the culprits behind cat trap tampering.

 

The technique was first developed by Dr Rosie Hohnen and collaborators in 2011, during her time as an AWC intern at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary on Bunuba and Kija country in central Kimberley.

“We compared the images of the four quolls to those in the reference library and were unable to find any matches. That’s how we were able to confirm Mt Gibson’s first sanctuary-born independent juveniles.”

Erin believes the young quolls were likely born late July and weaned away from mum’s pouch in December.

“This is very exciting for the team, as it’s our first evidence of successful breeding to independence for reintroduction program at Mt Gibson.”

 

Ecologists used a unique method of compared quoll spot patterns against a reference library of all 45 quolls to determine the four individuals were newly born to the sanctuary. Pictured: Erin Barritt and Robin Sinclair conducted a health check on one of the sanctuary's newest residents. Matt Lynn/AWC
Ecologists used a unique method of compared quoll spot patterns against a reference library of all 45 quolls to determine the four individuals were newly born to the sanctuary. Pictured: Erin Barritt and Robin Sinclair conducted a health check on Tim Tam, one of the sanctuary’s newest residents.

 

Ecologists involved in the discovery of the independent juveniles named them after Australia’s favourite biscuits – Tim Tam, Oreo, Monte and Tiny Teddy. Erin explained the inspiration behind the names as “the quolls being fresh out of the oven, just like our favourite treats”.

The Western Quoll is the 10th locally extinct mammal species released at Mt Gibson as part of an ambitious reintroduction project. The first cohort of 11 quolls were released at the sanctuary in April last year, from Julimar State Forest which is managed by WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions. Another 23 individuals were sourced in June from Greater Kingston National Park and Perup Nature Reserve, followed by a third reintroduction of 11 individuals in November, from Taronga Conservation Society Australia’s conservation breeding program at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, NSW. A fourth reintroduction took place in March this year, with eight quolls travelling from Avon Valley National Park.

 

AWC Wildlife Ecologist Melissa Jensen Western Quoll Release Brad Leue/AWC
Melissa Jensen, AWC Ecologist, releasing a Western Quoll outside the fenced area at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary in April 2023.

 

Since their return to the Wheatbelt, the quolls have adapted to the environment and the first evidence of breeding was confirmed in August last year, when one female was found carrying bean-sized joeys nicknamed by ecologists as Chudlets.

AWC protects the Western Quoll at Paruna and Mt Gibson wildlife sanctuaries in WA using a comprehensive feral predator control program. For more on the species, click here.

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