The first eastern quolls to be born in the wild on mainland Australia in half a century have emerged from the pouch and are roaming freely in Booderee National Park.
In March, 20 quolls were reintroduced to the park in an attempt to re-establish the species in the wild.
Only four survived. However, in June, the project team discovered 15 baby quolls in the mothers’ pouches.
These baby quolls are nearing independence from their mothers and have since been observed climbing trees, hunting for spiders and insects and exploring their environment together.
For the past eight months, the Eastern Quoll Reintroduction Team has collected and analysed data on quolls released into the park to find the main obstacles to successfully re-establishing a wild population at Booderee.
Rewilding Australia director Rob Brewster said he was excited to see the quolls reach another critical stage of the reintroduction program.
“We identified 15 jellybean-sized quolls in the pouch back in June,” he said.
“Over the past week we’ve managed to track seven of those quolls, we aren’t sure if there’s more but we will continue to monitor to see whether there are more juvenile quolls in the park.”
Mr Brewster said the number of adult quolls hadn’t changed since May, which was a positive sign.
“The ones that survived have gone on to thrive in the park and have learnt predator avoidance while successfully finding food and shelter,” he said
Australian National University researcher Dr Natasha Robinson said the project has contributed significantly to the knowledge of what is required to reintroduce quolls into the wild on the mainland.
“Seeing joeys leave the pouch is another positive step for the project,” she said.
“We’ve now seen that the quolls reintroduced to the park can not only find food and shelter, but also breed and raise their young successfully.”
The eastern quoll is known as a ‘critical weight range’ species, lying in the 3.5g-5.5kg range of mammal weights, which are particularly susceptible to fox predation.
But more than 15 years of intensive fox management at Booderee National Park has laid the groundwork for the reintroduction of quolls to the park.
Mr Brewster said there was the possibility of introducing more quolls to the park in April next year.
The Eastern Quoll Reintroduction Team is a partnership between Parks Australia, Rewilding Australia, The Australian National University, Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council, WWF Australia, the National Environmental Science Program Threatened Species Recovery Hub, Taronga Conservation Society, and Tasmanian Quoll Conservation Program sanctuaries; Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary and Devils at Cradle.