Eastern quolls have returned to the wild of mainland Australia for the first time in decades after 20 of the small mammals were released into Booderee National Park this week.
The translocation of the quolls – 11 females and 9 males – from Tasmania is another big step on the journey to restore the native biodiversity of Booderee.
The quolls are the third native species to be reintroduced to the park in recent years, following the release of long-nosed potoroos in 2014 and southern brown bandicoots in 2016.
Despite once being abundant along the east coast, the eastern quoll largely disappeared in the wild on Australia’s mainland almost half a century ago. But a chance to return the species to the wild was identified at Booderee, on the south coast of NSW.
For several years the team from Rewilding Australia has partnered with Australian National University researchers, Booderee National Park staff and traditional owners, working towards the return of this native species to the region.
Booderee National Park natural resource manager Dr Nick Dexter said bringing eastern quolls back to the park was important work toward biodiversity restoration.
“Translocating species can be a long and difficult process, but the rewards are high,” Dr Dexter said.
“We’ve spent 15 years undertaking intensive feral predator control in the surrounding region. This makes Booderee unique and it’s already led to success in reintroducing other locally extinct mammals to Booderee in recent years so we’re confident that this project has every chance of success.”
Although eastern quolls vanished from the mainland, they survived in the Tasmanian wild. In recent times wildlife sanctuaries have brought them back to the mainland for breeding and reintroduction into fenced areas. But until now, no-one had tried a wild reintroduction where the species would play a vital role in restoring lost ecosystem function.
Rewilding Australia, with support from WWF-Australia, the Taronga Conservation Society and Shoalhaven Landcare, took on the challenge. Working with the Tasmanian Quoll Conservation Program sanctuaries Devils@Cradle and Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary, these captive breeding centres have successfully increased their quoll population to support a wild reintroduction.
Rewilding Australia’s Rob Brewster said the story of the loss of the eastern quoll was a tragedy.
“In the early 1900s a mysterious epidemic carried off vast numbers of eastern quolls. Their population was devastated again as foxes spread across south eastern Australia, with the last mainland eastern quolls being regularly seen in the 1960s in the Sydney and Illawarra region of NSW,” Mr Brewster said.
ANU researcher Dr Natasha Robinson said the quolls have been fitted with GPS collars so their progress in the park can be closely monitored.
“Over the next three months the eastern quolls will be intensively monitored via GPS tracking and then regularly monitored over three years. Foxes, both outside and entering the park will also be monitored and managed with the aim of ensuring fox incursion to the park is very limited,” Dr Robinson said.
“This will help us understand how resilient the eastern quolls can be to very low densities of feral predators in the landscape”.
“The multiple layers of feral predator control that Booderee National Park has put in place over many years has made it an ideal place to attempt this wild reintroduction and to see how a reintroduced native predator interacts with other species.”
WWF-Australia’s head of living ecosystems, Darren Grover, said WWF was excited to be involved in the project to return the “feisty but fragile” eastern quoll.
“This is the first time in Australia that a carnivore extinct on the mainland has been re-introduced to the wild,” Mr Grover said.
“Most of the carnivores lost from the mainland are gone forever, it’s not possible to bring them back, so this is a rare opportunity.
“For thousands of years eastern quolls played a part in the ecosystem as primarily insect-eaters. It will be fascinating to see what happens when they return to that role at Booderee”.
Assistant Minister for the Environment Melissa Price said the Australian government had provided more than $2million to Parks Australia through the Threatened Species Commissioner for projects like this.
“What I love most about this project is the very real outcomes it has had on the ground thanks to the hard work of all involved. To see potoroos, bandicoots and quolls return to a landscape they once inhabited, thanks to excellent fox and fire management, is heartening.”
Threatened Species Commissioner Dr Sally Box said she was proud to see the work come to fruition.
“Species recovery is all about partnerships, and this is another fantastic example of how governments, NGOs and the science community are working together to deliver results.”
The Wreck Bay Community, the traditional owners of Booderee, has endorsed this project, while the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program has provided research and monitoring support.