SOUTH Cape York Catchments (SCYC) has been working with  community since 2009 to identify surviving populations of the endangered Northern Quoll on Cape York.

Once common throughout the Cape, Quoll populations crashed in the 1980’s most likely due to the arrival of Cane Toads (which are poisonous to Quolls). While the Quoll population decrease has been dramatic, places such as Shipton’s Flat, Black Mountain and Lakeland have surviving populations that are persisting.

A photo of a Northern Quoll amongst the boulders at Cape Melville National Park sent to South Cape York Catchments by a camper may represent another important population persisting on Cape York. It is believed that Cane Toads are no longer a major threat to these refuge Quoll populations as they might have learnt to avoid eating them.

The Cane Toad is not the only threat to Northern Quolls. Quoll populations have also disappeared or declined from large areas of the Northern Territory and Western Australia where cane toads are yet to reach. Factors such as habitat degradation, inappropriate fire regimes, feral cats and weeds have been implicated in the Quolls’ demise.

Late season wildfires (common on Cape York), have shown to be very destructive for Quoll populations by reducing food availability and changing the habitat structure of an ecosystem. Consequently Northern Quolls are increasingly being used as an indicator of well-managed fire regimes.

SCYC and the Laura Indigenous rangers are investigating fire impacts on the biodiversity of the Sandstone escarpments around Laura. The rangers have been using traditional ecological knowledge and burning practices to promote the health of this ecosystem.

PHOTO: Juvenile Northern Quoll rescued from a car by QPWS ranger Chris Wall and released at Mt Cook National Park. Photo Janie White.

According to Traditional Owners and long time locals, Northern Quolls were once common in this area but have not been seen for a very long time. A Quoll record from these unique escarpments would be a great boost to their work. SCYC is also working with Traditional owners in the northern Wet Tropics to protect biodiversity.

The species whose range is restricted to the mountain tops and high ridges in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area are likely to become one of the first victims of climate change in Australia. Bana Yarralji Elders are extremely concerned about this and are looking at ways to protect the bicultural diversity of their country.

This year in conjunction with the Bana Yarralji rangers from Shipton’s Flat and the Quoll seekers network, SCYC would like to investigate unconfirmed reports of Spotted Tail Quolls on the Big Tableland south of Cooktown. If Spotted Tail Quolls were found here this could be Australia’s most northerly population of this species. SCYC and the Bana Yarralji rangers have been working to rehabilitate riparian vegetation to link isolated patches of rainforest.

PIC Laura Rangers learnt Quoll survey techniques in April 2010 from Dr John Winter. Skills they are using with their current fire project.

One such site is at Scrubby Creek near Cooktown where we are improving the connectivity between the rainforest of the upper Wet Tropics and the rainforest of the Annan River National Park. By improving the condition of this corridor, animals can move between these two protected areas.

Work includes weed control, revegetation, fencing and fire management. Scrubby Creek has been degraded after years of late season wild fires burning into the gallery forest right down to the creek.

The site was covered with a variety of invasive weeds such as Lantana, snakeweed and Mimosa pudica (the sensitive plant). Thanks to the hard work of the Bana Yarralji Rangers and SCYC, over 12 ha of Lantana has been removed. By removing these weeds and replacing them with a cover of native plants, this will prevent further weed infestation at this site.

Currently the site is being transformed into a native stand of vegetation that will provide habitat and food for wildlife as they move between these two Rainforest communities. Sightings of Bennett’s Tree Kangaroos along the creek and Northern Quolls close by emphasize the importance of this corridor.

How can you help?

Keep pet cats inside at night. Control feral cat numbers in your area and when travelling ensures you don’t transport toads to new areas.

Land managers can also protect Northern Quoll populations by creating a mosaic of early burns on their property that will avert late season wildfires. This will provide refuges, maintain tree cover, tree hollows and ensure adequate cover and food supply for Quolls to breed and thrive.

Collecting information on the distribution of Northern Quolls is critical to the recovery of this species in our region. If you see a Quoll please report your sighting including time, date, location (GPS if possible), and send observations or photos to the Quoll Seekers Network.

This project is supported by Cape York NRM through funding from the Queensland Government’s Q2 Coasts and Country and the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country Programs.

PIC Bennetts tree kangaroo near scrubby creek wildlife corridor site

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