The Eastern quoll, a spotted marsupial that was extinct from mainland Australia for almost six decades, has been reintroduced by the conservation group Aussie Ark.
Twenty-eight quolls were released into the Barrington Wildlife Sanctuary at Barrington Tops, New South Wales, in early September. The reintroduction of the vulnerable critter marks the culmination of a dedicated breeding program that has seen numbers swell to 90 quolls and counting.
The species is now continuing to grow in number with every breeding season, Aussie Ark said in a press release on Sept. 7.
“Our ultimate goal is to bolster the Eastern quoll species’ population and rewild the Barrington Tops,” explained Aussie Ark’s president, Tim Faulkner, calling the release of the 28 individuals a “massive step in the right direction.”
Aussie Ark manages a wild natural sanctuary landscape that remains fenced so as to keep out feral predators. The habitat is conducive to the thriving of all its resident species, allowing them to breed in peace and boost their own numbers exponentially.
The “healthy and safe environment” professed by Aussie Ark is in stark contrast to the habitat that forced the vulnerable marsupial into extinction in the mainland. In the 1960s, habitat fragmentation hit fever pitch, as did the threat of predation from feral foxes, cats, and domestic dogs.
Eastern quolls have only been present in Tasmania since their disappearance from mainland Australia, according to the WWF. Conforming to two color variations—tan with white spots, or black-brown with white spots—the quoll has a pointed nose and a characterful bushy tail.
The marsupial grows to the size of a small domestic cat and is naturally nocturnal. Carnivorous, the Eastern quoll hunts for its food in the open countryside or under cover of wooded canopies.
During the daytime, the spotted critter hides safely in nests or burrows constructed underground, under rocks, or beneath fallen woodland debris. Females will give birth to one litter per year, and the joeys’ color assignment, according to the WWF, is entirely random.
Breeding of this distinctive species, Aussie Ark explains on its website, takes place in early winter. Females gestate for 21 days and give birth to up to 30 young, but as her pouch only contains six teats, only the most tenacious young survive.
The joeys are weaned at between 18 and 20 weeks of age and then become independent.
Following the release of the 28 Eastern quolls in early September, Aussie Ark staffers are now looking ahead to the next breeding season, relocating their resident quolls within the facility so that they can pair up accordingly.
Don Church, president of Global Wildlife Conservation, praised the group for its “impressive long-term vision” and the team’s commitment to its realization. “By strategically reintroducing the right species in the right habitats, Aussie Ark is leading the way on rewilding Australia, restoring the ecosystems to their original state,” he said, according to the press release.
“This benefits not only the quolls, the ecosystems in which they live, and Australia,” Church continued, “but helps ensure a healthier planet for all life on Earth.”
In 2019, the breeding program by Aussie Ark logged a record high of 51 quoll joey births; now staffers hope that this year will replicate, or supersede, this success. The future of the previously extinct marsupial looks promising.
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