At a backyard BBQ last week I asked non-ecologist friends if they could tell me anything about the quoll. From a sample of 5: two people could give me nothing; two knew they were an Australian animal that had fur (it’s called a mammal guys) but would not hazard a guess if it was at the mouse or kangaroo end of the spectrum; and one went so far as to describe them as a native mammal, cat-size carnivore with spots…bingo!
So if you are like 4/5 of the people at my BBQ I’m here to fill you in. A lot has been happening in the world of quoll’s recently and it is pleasing to see them getting some media coverage. Politicians are even putting in their two cents!
So why are they interesting? Well…
Quolls are carnivorous marsupials (genus Dasyurus) with four species found in Australia and two in New Guinea. This skilled nocturnal hunter feeds on a variety of insects, frogs, small lizards, sometimes even possums, gliders and small wallabies and also (unfortunately) the cane toad. As a top-order predator they play a crucial role in the food chain and are essential to maintain a healthy, functioning ecosystem.
Quolls have a short life span, but the male northern quoll (D. hallocatus) takes this to the extreme with their exceptional reproductive strategy, known as semelparity. Researchers have found that the males spend all of their time searching for females, fighting other males and mating like crazy. And once the job is done, the exhausted, starving male northern quoll withers away and dies, all before his first birthday.
Despite their best reproductive efforts, all of the Australian quolls are in trouble.
In the north, quoll populations have suffered immensely due to cane toads. Other threats such as feral cats, poison baiting and loss of habitat have driven the eastern quoll (D. viverrinus) to extinction on the mainland and it is now only found in Tasmania. The northern (D. hallocatus), western (D. geoffroii) and tiger quoll (D. maculatus) species were once believed to be widespread but have all suffered from severe range contractions since European settlement.
Behind the scenes, hard-working folk are dedicated to research and conservation efforts to prevent any further decline.
One group of researchers at the University of Sydney managed to train quolls to avoid cane toads through taste aversion. In this study they fed juvenile quolls dead cane toads containing a nausea-inducing substance. When released in the wild the wised-up quolls had higher survival rates.
Last year an exciting reintroduction project began in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. The western quoll was reintroduced after becoming extinct from this region. So far it is looking like a success with 60 babies born in the first year and another batch of quolls to be added to the population this year.
The Nature Conservation Trust is currently raising funds through their ‘Who is Quentin’ campaign to protect Tiger Quoll habitat.
If you are in the Sydney area and would like to support the cause Miriam Margolyes (professor Sprout from Harry Potter) will make a special appearance at Featherdale Wildlife Park during the Easter school holidays. Details can be found here