Seven eastern quolls have been released in western Victoria, marking a long-awaited return for the species that was feared extinct in mainland Australia.
The eastern quoll is now only found in the wild in Tasmania
A breeding program has been set up for the species
It is hoped that the newly released quolls will help restore the health of the ecosystem
As the sun began to set on Thursday, a team of scientists and onlookers gathered to introduce the cat-like creatures to their new home – a 1,000 hectare merino sheep farm named Tiverton.
The reintroduction of the eastern quoll to Victorian soil is the culmination of seven years of work by the environmental charity Odonata Foundation and the Mount Rothwell Biodiversity Interpretation Centre, the state’s largest wild predator-free ecosystem.
A sanctuary in Tasmania, where eastern quolls are relatively common, helped bring the initial breeding pair to Victoria.
Described as “extremely cute” by the World Wildlife Fund, the marsupial hasn’t been seen in the state since the 1950s.
Restore a bad reputation
Although the exact reason for the depletion of the eastern quoll population remains unclear, it is thought to be a combination of wild predators and human action.
The species was much maligned by farmers in the late 1800s and early 1900s due to their predation of domestic chickens, according to a Federation University research paper.
Odonata Foundation executive chairman Nigel Sharp said the eastern quoll had a “very bad reputation”.
“At the time, everyone was just trying to get rid of all the native species without understanding their function in the natural system,” Sharp said.
“We want to demonstrate that it’s good to have quolls running around the farm, and we’re pretty confident that we will.”
Mr Sharp said the oriental quoll has an important role to play in restoring ecosystem health and balance.
“We think they will be very positive for the remaining vegetation,” he said.
Small but effective hunters, the oriental quoll helps control pests such as rabbits, mice and rats.
“Rearranging the hierarchy of species helps manage different insects and invasive species [species] too,” he said.
The quolls will also have company in their new home, with the Odonata Foundation also being responsible for reintroducing the eastern barred bandicoot to the sheep farm.
“Bringing the quolls in there is going to be a whole new level to watch, and we have a lot of people who are very excited about it,” Sharp said.
He said a team of experts from Mount Rothwell would constantly monitor the eastern quolls in person and with cameras.
Several major Australian universities are also involved.
“Our science team, which includes the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University, has set goals and targets for observation…so it’s a comprehensive program,” Sharp said.
Big goals for 2030
Mr Sharp said the return of the eastern quolls was another step in the right direction for the Odonata Foundation, which aims to halt the extinction of 30 endangered species by 2030.
“We have just started the stone-curlew bush breeding program which is going very well at Mount Rothwell, and the eastern betong program,” he said.
“And we have a few species in Western Australia that we’re starting.”