Saving the tiger quoll

By Carolyn Barry 30 November 2013
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Quolls aren’t such a well-known Aussie animal, but their plight is not looking good, especially for the tiger quoll.

QUOLLS AREN’T SUCH A well-known Aussie animal, but their plight is not looking good, especially for the tiger quoll.

The tiger quoll (Dasyurus maculatus), also known as the spotted-tail quoll, is endemic to south-eastern Australia and ranges from rare in Tasmania to endangered in other states. In the Otways, in southern Victoria, the carnivorous marsupial hasn’t been officially sighted since 2003 – there has only been unconfirmed sightings.

They are by far the biggest of the four quoll species in Australia and the largest carnivorous marsupials on the mainland (only its close cousin, the Tasmanian Devil, Sarcophilus harrisii, is bigger).

Tiger quolls native habitat in the Otways

Enter Lizzie Corke (a zoologist) and Shayne Neal (an expert in natural resource management) who in 2001 bought a dairy farm in the Otway ranges to convert it into a conservation zone, called the Cape Otway Conservation Ecology Centre (CEC). It’s the sort of place that all the locals know about and support – you usually get the response when you mention the Ecolodge: “Oh, Shayne and Lizzie’s place…”

In 2007, the AG Society awarded the couple a Conservation award for their efforts. And in 2005, Lizzie was named the Prime Minister’s Environmentalist of the Year – the first female and youngest recipient.

It’s a truly special experience to see the tiger quolls – with the unique spots on their flanks they are very cute. Though the spots seem to make them stand out in the enclosures, when they’re running though the forest, they’re almost impossible to see as their spots give them camouflage in the dappled light, says Lizzie.

Lizzie and Shayne established the CEC and along with a team of researchers and staff, have set up a tiger quoll conservation area that’s part of the captive breeding/insurance population program in Australia. The resident marsupials live in the largest quoll enclosure in Australia (and therefore, the world).

“Tiger quolls are a hero species,” says Lizzy. “They’re a real window into how other smaller marsupials are doing.”

There are typically about three quolls at a time, or a few more when there are babies. These spotted marsupials are the closest relative to the Tasmanian devil, which isn’t hard to see when you catch them yawning like the devils. Their pointed noses and whiskers are distinctly devil-like.

They also have the second strongest bite force for their size, after the Tasmanian Devil, says Lizzy. It allows them to go for prey up to five times their own body weight, including possums, and other small mammals.

These carnivorous marsupials scavenge the ground for fresh kill but they are also skilful climbers. In fact, quolls spend most of their time amongst the trees, a behaviour that was confirmed after the the Otway Conservation centre was set up. The new insight has helped Parks Victoria refocus their camera traps more towards the trees instead.

Endangered species in need

Competition from foxes and feral cats is hastening the decline, so part of the research is focussed on fox eradication. But first the priority is finding out where the quolls are. Since quolls use latrine sites to broadcast who’s in the area and who’s ready for breeding, the researchers have been training an Australian shepherd called Badger to sniff out the sites.

During your stay at the Ecolodge, a guest house set up to support the conservation programs, you can take a guided tour of the property and its now thriving bunch of ecosystems – from manna gum woodland (the aptly named ‘koala ridge’) to open grassy areas and gullies. Frogs, which weren’t at all on the property when it was purchased 10 years ago are now coming back in huge numbers, says Lizzie. You’ll also likely see whichever animals Lizzie and Shayne are helping to recuperate, whether it be quolls, koalas, kangaroos, wallabies or any other creatures that people drop in to them.

The Ecolodge houses up to 10 guest in five double rooms and includes meals. The place (designed from the ground up with environmental principals) is like a home away from home.

A mother koala and young baby are being looked after by Lizzie and Shayne at the Conservation Centre. (Credit: Carolyn Barry)