20 May 2024

QUOLL GOALS: 19 EASTERN QUOLLS ARE BACK ON MAINLAND AUSTRALIA'S SOUTH COAST

The future of Australian species depends on healthy habitat and strong national nature laws. Please sign the petition to help regenerate nature and bring our threatened Australian animals, like the eastern quoll, back from the brink of extinction.

For millions of years, eastern quolls thrived across southeast Australia. Sadly, by the 1960s, these iconic animals had vanished from almost all of their mainland range and haven’t been seen for at least 60 years.

But there’s hope for their return.

For almost ten years, WWF-Australia has supported efforts to reintroduce the eastern quoll to mainland Australia. In April 2024, a milestone over a decade in the making was finally reached as 19 eastern quolls were reintroduced into a fenced sanctuary in Booderee Botanic Gardens within the National Park in Jervis Bay. This monumental event marks a huge step forward in the conservation of this unique species.

But what makes eastern quolls so important to Australia’s forests? And how are they making a comeback? Read on to find out more.

What is an eastern quoll?

Eastern quolls are undoubtedly one of Australia's most captivating native animals.

Androo Kelly (Owner & Director of Trowunna Wildlife Park) holding two eastern quoll pups in Mole Creek, Tasmania.
Androo Kelly (Owner & Director of Trowunna Wildlife Park) holding two eastern quoll pups in Mole Creek, Tasmania. © WWF-Australia / Madeleine Smitham

As marsupials, eastern quolls have pouches in which they raise their young. Their fur comes in a stunning range of colours, from jet black to orange-tan, and is adorned with white spots. Like a human’s fingerprints, or stripes on a zebra, these spots are unique to each quoll. Weighing between just one to two kilograms, their small size and unique patterns set them apart from their larger cousin, the spotted-tailed quoll, which still exists in southeast Australia and is occasionally recognised by lucky people in remote areas that are generally away from human habitation.

Today, eastern quolls can only be found in the wild in the forests of Tasmania. This recent reintroduction of 19 quolls to Booderee Botanic Gardens is a critical step in re-establishing their presence in areas where they’ve been locally extinct for almost a century.

Why are eastern quolls important?

Eastern quolls play a vital role in their environment as ecosystem regulators. Their diet primarily consists of insects, but they are also known to eat pests like mice and rats. Eastern quolls also serve as indicators of ecosystem health, and their presence or absence in certain areas can provide valuable insights into the overall health of their habitat.

By reintroducing the eastern quoll to mainland Australia in a semi-wild landscape, researchers can observe and uncover valuable information about ecological challenges, and strategies that will help eventually allow them to live beyond the fence.

The team transporting eastern quolls inside their den boxes to the release site.
The team transporting eastern quolls inside their den boxes to the release site. © WWF-Australia / think Mammoth

Why are eastern quolls threatened?

The absence of eastern quolls from mainland Australia for over five decades is a sombre reminder of the myriad threats they face. Records from early explorers recount these marsupials once thrived in abundance across southeast Australia. However, the 1900s brought new threats from predators that quolls hadn’t encountered before. Dogs, cats and foxes posed direct competition for food sources and heightened the threat to quolls through predation and the spread of disease. The destruction and fragmentation of forests for agricultural and urban expansion added to the challenges quolls faced, limiting their habitat and leaving them nowhere to go.

In addition to these external pressures, the eastern quoll’s inherently curious nature can lead them into precarious situations. Instances of them becoming trapped in man-made hazards like septic systems or PVC pipes highlight the importance of keeping these human-induced threats out of their habitats.

How will this project help protect the eastern quoll?

In 2018, the first pilot trial of this project was conducted in Booderee National Park using captive-bred animals released directly to the wild. While ultimately unsuccessful, learnings were taken from the program and recommendations were reviewed to map out a revised strategy to return this unique mammal to the south coast of New South Wales.

Rob Brewster (Rewilding Program Manager) holding an eastern quoll ready to be released in Booderee Botanic Gardens, Jervis Bay.
Rob Brewster (Rewilding Program Manager) holding an eastern quoll ready to be released in Booderee Botanic Gardens, Jervis Bay. © WWF-Australia / think Mammoth
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Francesca Roncolato and Rob Brewster from WWF-Australia's rewilding team release an eastern quoll into Booderee National Park © WWF-Australia / think Mammoth

In April this year, a huge step forward was taken in the preservation of this iconic species when 19 eastern quolls were successfully released into an 82-hectare feral-predator-proof sanctuary nestled within the national park at Booderee Botanic Gardens. This sanctuary not only offers a haven for the quolls, shielding them from external threats such as predators and human interferences, but protects a valuable native plant collection held by the gardens. A sophisticated network of cameras allows researchers to monitor and ensure predators remain outside the fence, and with every quoll having their unique spot pattern, our team can keep an eye on individual quoll activity.

The plan to reintroduce the eastern quoll into a new purpose-built wildlife enclosure within Booderee Botanic Gardens has been a decade in the making, made possible by WWF-Australia and our dedicated partners at Parks Australia, the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council, the National Parks Conservation Trust, the Australian National University, the Tasmanian Quoll Conservation Program’s Devils at Cradle, Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary and Aussie Ark’s Barrington Wildlife Sanctuary. We’ve also had incredible local support from Shoalhaven City Council, Shoalhaven Landcare, and Bremick, who donated twenty thousand individual steel screws to hold down the fox-proof fence apron!

The fence that was built around Booderee Botanic Gardens to provide a fox-proof safe haven for the eastern quoll reintroduction in the National Park.
The fence that was built around Booderee Botanic Gardens to provide a fox-proof safe haven for the eastern quoll reintroduction in the National Park. © Vassi Lena / WWF-Australia

What’s next for the project?

This project marks a pivotal step forward in the race to rescue eastern quolls from ongoing declines. The goal of this population is for eastern quolls to contribute to a coordinated network of population strongholds on mainland Australia, which can then support future rewilding programs into larger landscapes. As the quolls become accustomed to their new home, researchers hope to witness a population boom within the safety of the fence. Ideally, this haven will serve as the blueprint for more sanctuaries to develop in other areas of Australia where eastern quolls have disappeared.

Project partners, Aussie Ark and Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council, opening den boxes to release eastern quolls into Booderee Botanic Gardens, Jervis Bay.
Project partners, Aussie Ark and Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council, opening den boxes to release eastern quolls into Booderee Botanic Gardens, Jervis Bay. © WWF-Australia / think Mammoth

What you can do to help

WWF-Australia is committed to ensuring that future generations have the privilege of experiencing the presence of eastern quolls in our environment, and you can help make a difference:

  • Make a tax-deductible donation. Your generosity will help plant trees, protect remaining forests and save our precious animals like eastern quolls from extinction.
  • Sign the petition calling on our Australian Government to strengthen our national nature laws and save wildlife like eastern quolls.