Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) continues to raise the bar for rewilding projects in Australia, with the reintroduction of the Western Quoll to Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary in WA. The quoll is the tenth species released at the sanctuary for reintroduction, the greatest number of species ever restored to a single conservation site in Australia.
Over the weekend, AWC assisted by the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) translocated 11 Western Quolls, also known by the Noongar name Chuditch. The individuals (7 females and 4 males) were sourced from Julimar State Forest, which is managed by DBCA. The quolls were housed at the Native Animal Rescue for three nights before their historic and record-breaking homecoming to the 131,800-hectares Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary on the northern edge of the WA Wheatbelt on the traditional lands of the Badimia people.
Badimia elder Gloria Fogarty joined AWC staff for the return of the Chuditch to Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary. Gloria delivered a traditional smoking ceremony, welcoming the individuals home.
“I think it’s gorgeous to have quolls back on my Country,” Gloria said. “I think they’re very special and to know that they’re going to be in this habitat is a really good experience for us all. To have them back here will be extremely valuable. When they breed, well we’ll just go mad admiring the little critters.”
The Western Quoll is the 10th species AWC has restored to Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary since 2015. The reintroduction sets a significant new milestone in Australian conservation for the largest number of reintroductions at a single site. The Western Quoll is also the first top-order large endemic mammalian carnivore restored by AWC.
Within the sanctuary, Chuditch joins the Greater Bilby (reintroduced between 2016-2018), Numbat (2016-2018), Brush-tailed Bettong (2015-2018), Western Barred Bandicoot (2017-2019), Red-tailed Phascogale (2017-2019), Greater Stick-nest Rat (2015-2019), Banded Hare-wallaby (2017-2018), Shark Bay Mouse (2017-2018), and Brushtail Possum (2021-2022). Eight of the nine species reintroduced have gone on to establish healthy and growing populations. AWC has been unable to determine whether the ninth species, the Shark Bay Mouse, has established successfully and will make a further attempt to establish the species in coming years.
Dr John Kanowski, AWC Chief Science Officer, celebrated the significant new milestone, saying the successful rewilding project at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary sets a precedent for restoring biodiversity.
“In 2015, AWC’s rewilding plan for the sanctuary was considered ambitious due to the extent of reintroductions planned for a single site,” said Dr Kanowski. “Fast forward through eight years, dozens of translocation plans and a few delays – our vision to protect the future of 10 locally-extinct mammal species has come to fruition. It’s all thanks to AWC’s science-informed approach to conservation as well as our dedicated and talented field teams.”
“Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary is an example of the best-in-the-world rewilding and once target population numbers are reached, it will deliver a significant increase for around 10% of Australia’s threatened mammal species.”
Western Quolls once occurred across most of mainland Australia but the species was wiped out from eastern states by the mid-to-late 19th century, Central Australia by mid-20th century and large parts of WA by the 1930s. The Western Quoll currently persists in south-west of WA with small populations known to exist in the Wheatbelt, Goldfields and the South Coast. Prior to the weekend’s reintroduction, they had been missing from the Mt Gibson area for many decades, probably for around 100 years.
Introduced predators such as feral cats and foxes are the primary driver behind the Western Quoll decline, along with changed fire regimes, land clearing and persecution by humans. To support the reintroduction of the large endemic mammalian carnivore to Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary, AWC has carried out extensive and ongoing feral predator control since 2019. This project involves large-scale aerial baiting outside the fenced area, ground baiting, trapping and canid pest ejectors.
Georgina Anderson, AWC Senior Field Ecologist, welcomed the sanctuary’s newest residents.
“The reintroduction of the Western Quoll to Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary will improve the conservation status of the vulnerable species by establishing a new population in a semi-arid area,” Georgina, who led the translocation over the weekend, explained. “The new population will increase the overall population size of the quolls and increase the number of secure populations in Australia.”
“Over the next three years, we hope to translocate a total of 100 founders from several populations. This will provide a new genetic source for future reintroductions.”
For the moment, Western Quolls were exclusively released outside Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary’s 7,800-hectare feral predator-free fenced area. AWC will consider introducing individuals inside the fence once populations of the other nine reintroduced species have successfully established and grown in numbers. Western Quolls are the second species reintroduced outside the fence, following Brushtail Possums which were successfully released into the wider sanctuary in 2021.
Georgina and her team will monitor the quolls for up to 12 months post-release using the world’s most advanced drone radio-telemetry system from Wildlife Drones. This new technology enables ecologists to track multiple individuals simultaneously and over vast terrain, as they settle into the new environment.
The next phase for Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary’s rewilding project will include the supplementation of Western Quolls until 2026, as well as another attempt at establishing a Shark Bay Mouse population and all species monitoring through targeted and annual eco-health surveys. Ecologists will also review opportunities to establish populations of other reintroduced species outside the fence, which will require increased baiting and trapping of cats and foxes to ensure their survival.
AWC’s work on Western Quolls is supported by NACC NRM through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.
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