Quolls settle in as project declared a success

The brave endeavour to return a previously near-extinct species to its native habitat after more than a century has been declared a ‘real success story’ by the government’s commissioner tasked with saving Australia’s native flora and fauna. The western quoll (dasyurus geoffroii) reintroduction project in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, spearheaded by the Foundation for Australia’s Most Endangered Species (FAME) and the South Australian Government and supported by SSAA National through a $60,000 donation, has earned the praise from Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews after recent monitoring results proved the spotted species is thriving in its former home.

Following the successful release of 41 quolls in the initial 2014 release and an additional 37 animals in May 2015, strong survival and successful breeding rates are paving the way for a third and final batch of quolls likely be released later this year. The quolls were introduced in an area free from foxes and rich in native vegetation, thanks to the involvement of the SSAA South Australia Conservation and Wildlife Management (SSAA SA CWM) Branch in the State Government’s broadscale landscape conservation program, Bounceback.

FAME CEO Cheryl Hill spoke candidly to Australian Shooter, providing the latest news from on the ground, including results from trapping in December, which saw 45 quolls analysed and provided positive insights into how the project is tracking. “The trapping indicated that the young are surviving, which is good news. It also shows that the population is expanding,” said Cheryl. “Once approved, the next release this year will concentrate on plugging the genetic spread as it is really important in a healthy population and given that it will be our last delivery, we really need to ensure we get a good gender balance.”

Commissioner Andrews, who attended last year’s release ceremony, said the reintroduction of the quoll is “a fantastic example of science, action and partnership” and ticks the Federal Government’s conservation boxes in terms of priority mammal recovery, tackling feral cats and creating a safe haven for threatened species. “Seeing threatened species surviving and, in this case, thriving, in the Australian landscape without a fence is a real success story,” he said.

“It’s important to remember though that this project would not have been such a success without 23 years of dedicated land management and feral animal control by the South Australian Government’s Operation Bounceback.

“I commend the Sporting Shooters’ Association for being such a strong supporter of Operation Bounceback since it began and I would love to see more partnerships like this working to protect our unique threatened species.”

SSAA SA CWM President Tony Judd reiterated the commitment of local members to the project and pointed to past and ongoing programs that have directly benefited the quolls. “We have previously run the Flinders Feral Predator Program, which targeted cats and foxes in much the same area as the quoll release sites. A major function of this program was to gather statistics on the predator numbers, as well as culling them,” Tony told the FAME Board last year.

“I was very pleased to report quite low numbers of cats sighted, substantially less than was found in the Flinders Feral Predator Program. It means the efforts of everyone involved have been effective and the new youngsters will have an excellent chance of surviving and spreading out. And we will be there to help them.”

News of the program’s success, as reported positively by some news outlets such as Channel 7 coupled with ongoing coverage in this magazine, has travelled far and wide. It has also attracted interest from other groups looking to conduct similar work. “Because of the success of the program other organisations are looking at introducing quolls in other states,” said Cheryl. “We know of at least one organisation in New South Wales that has shown quite a bit of interest.”

The hard work doesn’t end once a final batch is released though. The reintroduction team must ensure any new quolls bought in from Western Australia find their feet in a new environment, requiring continuous monitoring. That’s where SSAA SA CWM will play an important role, with the Quoll Protection Program targeting feral cats to ensure the quoll population remains viable. “As the quolls spread out we will have to spread out with them. It is a very long-term project,” said Tony.

SSAA SA CWM Activity Coordinator for the Quoll Protection Program Nicholas Nunn said recent spotlighting in areas determined by the State Government has resulted in large males being culled and provided for analysis. “From 22 hours of spotlighting, we culled 10 cats including large males, which was a bonus as these cause great destruction,” he said.

Along with the quolls, FAME has relocated another species that virtually died out in South Australia’s arid lands in the 1950s, with 79 brushtail possums released in the Flinders Ranges in July last year. Initial results indicate the possums are also surviving and breeding, with all females captured recently having new pouch young. “Total numbers should be over 100 animals now, not counting new pouch young,” said Cheryl.

FAME has valiantly raised more than $1 million to date to fund the reintroduction project. However, a target of $1.5 million is still required to ensure much-needed monitoring continues during the next few years. SSAA members are encouraged to donate to FAME today.

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