Record numbers of eastern quoll joeys born at Barrington Wildlife Sanctuary
There’s been a baby boom of eastern quolls at a New South Wales wildlife sanctuary, with a record number of joeys born this season.
The breeding program is run by Aussie Ark in a bid to safeguard the endangered quoll species.
The small carnivorous marsupial was once widespread in Australia but has been extinct on the mainland since the early 1960s.
It’s now only found in the wild in Tasmania, where their numbers have been declining for decades, with no sign of improvement.
The Aussie Ark breeding program started in 2017 when nine eastern quolls from Tasmania were delivered to the organisation’s Barrington Wildlife Sanctuary on the NSW Mid North Coast.
Since then, the organisation has bred and released 250 quolls into its large predator-proof sanctuary area.
This year, pouch checks at the facility revealed a total of 63 joey births, which is the highest the program has recorded in one breeding season.
“This quoll baby boom is truly incredible,” said Aussie Ark operations manager Dean Reid.
“The birth of these joeys feels like a modern Jurassic Park.
“[We’re] bringing a species back from the brink to reclaim the Australian bush.”
‘Rewilding the mainland’
Predation by feral animals as well as poisoning, trapping and land clearing led to the demise of the eastern quoll.
It is thought that the last was killed on the mainland in 1963.
Jake Meney has been working with the eastern quolls and says the breeding program is an important way of trying to boost the species’ numbers.
“The biggest threat is feral predators like foxes and cats,” he said.
“Our goal is to maintain these quolls inside our feral-proof sanctuary, and they are doing extremely well.”
Mr Meney said the longer-term plan was to release quolls back into parts of mainland Australia.
“Our goal at Aussie Ark is rewilding the mainland, to have the landscape look as it did hundreds of years ago, and eastern quolls were certainly part of that landscape,” he said.
“Aussie Ark has already been involved with a couple of releases down on the South Coast of NSW … into a fairly small area.
“Hopefully it is just the start of something much bigger.”
Young quolls monitored
This season’s joeys were born inside a specific enclosure so the animals could be carefully cared for and monitored.
The joeys are still tiny and won’t emerge from the safety of their mothers’ pouches until they are a few months old.
“As is the case with marsupials, they are born extremely underdeveloped. They are pink, they don’t have fur and they are quite vulnerable,” Mr Meney said.
“We like to leave the female alone to rear the young in the pouch and just check on them periodically.
“The exciting time is when they leave the pouch and start to spend time on Mum’s back … they have fur at that stage and look incredibly cute as juveniles.”
In an encouraging sign, there has also been some successful breeding among quolls released in previous years into the larger sanctuary area.
“It’s really exciting,” Mr Meney said.
“Our largest sanctuary is 400 hectares, so they are still released with radio-tracking collars.
“That way, even within our own sanctuary, we can keep an eye on them.”