The scent of a quoll

Sunday 21 December, 2014
Sparky the quoll dogSparky the quoll detection dog. Photo by Alison Wilson

If you’ve ever owned a border collie you’ll appreciate that they have some amazing qualities.

Specially bred for intelligence and obedience, these working dogs have incredible energy and love to be involved in everything.

After her daughter Liz passed away in 2012, an anonymous supporter was keen to honour her memory with a gift to Bush Heritage that her daughter would have just loved. As Liz had been an avid bushwalker, native animal lover and owner of border collies herself, there was one project that stood out.

Thanks to a gift from Liz’s estate, two border collies have been special guests on our Carnarvon Reserve in central Queensland, joining 30 scientists and field researchers as the national Bush Blitz program conducted a 10‑day surveying exercise.

Northern QuollNorthern quoll. Photo by Jiri Lochman / Lochman Transparencies

Scampering through the bush with their handlers in tow, these specially trained sniffer dogs were on site to find traces of the nationally endangered northern quoll.

Working in habitats identified by our Queensland ecologist, Murray Haseler, as most suitable for the quoll, the dogs confirmed their scent at several sites.

What we want ultimately, to confirm the animal, is to get a photo of it. So we can now use motion sensor cameras at identified spots.

While sniffer dogs are usually used to find drugs, ecologist Amanda Hancock and her husband Lloyd, from a neighbouring property, provide trained sniffer dogs as a wildlife detection service and worked with the dogs during the blitz.

Sparky the quoll dogAmanda Hancock with Sparky. Photo Alison Wilson

“We have no doubt that there’s quoll odour here,” Mrs Hancock said, “so it’s very exciting.”

“What we want ultimately, to confirm the animal, is to get a photo of it. So we can now use motion sensor cameras at identified spots,” said Murray. “If anything walks past, it’ll snap a picture.”

Sparky the quoll dogAmanda Hancock discusses the project with Bush Heritage ecologist Murray Haseler. Photo by Alison Wilson

Carnarvon Station represents one of the few intact remnants of Brigalow Belt landscape, which was once one of the most extensive and fertile regions in northern Australia. Broad‑scale land clearing has fragmented habitats and ecosystems but intact remnants such as Carnarvon Reserve provide a chance for scientific researchers to understand that natural biodiversity.

Last recorded on the property in 2008, quolls are threatened by habitat loss, a propensity to eat poisonous cane toads and predation by feral cats and foxes.

The smallest of the Australian quolls, the northern quoll males die off after each mating season, leaving females to raise their young. If a population on the reserve can be found, we can ensure they’re supported by altering fi e regimes and controlling feral predators in the area.

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