20 Mar 2023
A QUEST FOR QUOLLS
Pointy ears, pink nose and a fluffy tail? Sounds like a recipe for another quoll-ity read from David Waterhouse. David has been an avid WWF supporter for 60 years and intends to continue his support through a gift in his Will. I first caught sight of a quoll on a warm January evening in southern Tasmania. I was driving outside Derwent Bridge, close to Hobart, along an untarred road. It wound up between the hills towards Bushy Park. I had been told by a local farmer that I would have a reasonable chance of spotting one or two of the elusive marsupials if I were to go up there on dusk. About halfway up the road, when the sun was close to sinking, I saw a pair of green rosellas fly into a large gum tree close to the roadside fence. These birds are endemic to the island, and I had only seen them once or twice before. I stopped and had a good look at them through binoculars. When they flew off in undulating flight above the paddock grass, their characteristic cries of ‘cusick, cusick’ echoed through the still air. As I opened the car door to drive on, I noticed a large pile of rocks just up from the car on the roadside. I stood for a few moments in the twilight, watching down the grassy slopes as the lights of the farmsteads began to appear, when I became aware of a movement in a gap between the large stones. A pink-nosed creature with a pointy face and erect ears was watching me. I kept perfectly still for about a minute when the little animal emerged from its hiding place. It regarded me intently, with twitching whiskers. There were, at the most, two metres between us.
I knew at once that I was looking at an eastern quoll, still known locally as ‘native cat’. It was, to me, nothing like a cat. It resembled a marten or a mongoose. The patterning of its fur was most bizarre. It was spotted all over its body, except for the tail, with what appeared, in the gloom, to be pure white blobs resembling polka dots. This I expected, but what baffled me was that the ground colour of that particular specimen was not fawn but a dark chocolate, almost black, colouration. Then, I recalled reading that Tasmanian quolls of a darker, even jet black colour are often born in the same litter of fawn-coloured individuals. I was looking at such a one. It showed no fear whatsoever and soon scampered off to begin the night’s hunting. Its prey could include small lizards, worms, insects, ground-nesting birds and their eggs and young, and even farmers’ chickens if not securely locked in at night.
After a few more kilometres, as I had hoped, I saw first one, then another two quolls. In the headlights, they appeared pale grey, but when one stopped to look momentarily, I could discern the white, circular spots all over the body and the characteristic white tail. On a later occasion, I leant on a fence under a harvest moon one August in Tasmania and looked out over a large paddock that had recently been ploughed. The moonlight was bright enough for me to make out three or four quolls searching the furrows for such small fry as grubs, such as the larvae of Cockchafers, worms and so on. They reminded me of squirrels or chipmunks in their scampering.
They might have been only glimpses, but I felt lucky and well pleased to have had just brief sightings of the elusive little animals. They had once been common on the Australian mainland but are now believed to be gone entirely. Tasmania is the last refuge of the eastern quoll. There are still some northern and western quolls surviving elsewhere on the mainland, albeit in much-reduced numbers. The last, or one of the last, of the eastern quolls in New South Wales was hit and killed by a car, in Vaucluse of all places.
Recently, I met a man named Patrick Giumelli at a WWF-Australia conference at the Australian Museum in Sydney. He is involved with a project to reintroduce the eastern quoll to a national park near Jervis Bay on the NSW South Coast. If the attempt at reintroduction succeeds I, for one, will look forward to the time when these interesting little marsupials can re-establish themselves in at least part of their ancestral haunts on the Australian mainland.
Eastern quolls once inhabited the Australian mainland; however, they currently only remain in Tasmania. WWF-Australia's Rewilding team are working to bring back the eastern quoll to the mainland as part of Rewildling Booderee*.
Bringing back the eastern quoll to the mainland helps restore key ecosystem regulator roles vital to maintaining a healthy Australian landscape. It’s thanks to you that restoration and rewilding projects can be successfully planned and implemented. One of the most effective ways to have an impact on projects like this one in the future is by leaving a gift in your Will. If you’d like to learn more about how leaving a legacy to nature in your Will supports conservation efforts like this, you can contact us at email@example.com.
*Rewilding Booderee is a collaboration between National Parks Conservation Trust, Parks Australia, the Australian National University and WWF-Australia, with support from Shoalhaven City Council, Foundation for Australia’s Most Endangered Species and Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council.