Let me introduce you to a cute little creature – the Northern Quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus). Unfortunately I can’t reveal his whereabouts (not yet anyway) but Bush Heritage staff are working on it as part of an innovative new trial involving wildlife detection dogs.
These dogs have been specially trained to sniff out any presence of the Northern Quoll.
Wildlife detection dog trainers Lloyd and Amanda Hancock have been working with their dogs for over four years and are confident these dogs are very accurate.
“When the dogs show positive indications we record habitat information and set up camera traps to gather further evidence of the species' presence and movements. This is hugely beneficial as a preliminary search of a site and it allows other survey methods to be more effectively concentrated, especially in large areas” says Amanda.
According to Amanda, part of the training is ensuring the dogs are extremely obedient so they're not a threat to any of the habitats they're searching. As part of their training, the dogs are continually being tested to ensure they're not falsely indicating on a 'find'.
This is done by exposing the dogs to several scents and ensuring they continue to go to the scent of the quoll and not something else. If the dogs do falsely indicate they're 'sin-binned' as Amanda puts it, and not allowed to keep working. The dogs are rewarded when they do find a scent by being allowed to play, usually with a tennis ball.
The partnership has been a perfect match for Amanda and Lloyd. Lloyd has experience training dogs for stock handling work on their 30,000 acre property Saddler Springs in the Carnarvon ranges, and Amanda has a background in wildlife management, having spent most of her career with Queensland’s Parks & Wildlife Service. The two have teamed up eager to achieve some conservation outcomes for our endangered wildlife.
The Northern Quoll is a small marsupial carnivore, very elusive, and can be distinguished from the other three species of marsupial carnivore of the genus Dasyurus by the short thumb on their hindfoot. The mysterious little mammal is approx. 30cm long and usually weighs less than a kilo.
The male will mate only once in his life and will usually die by the age of 12 months. The northern quoll mostly prefers rocky outcrops or escarpment country and breeding season is usually May/June, which according to Amanda is a perfect time to be searching for the quoll.
The Northern Quoll has been known to be as far south as Rockhampton, however traditionally the populations have been restricted to northern Australia and have declined in recent times.
Bush Heritage Australia ecologist Murray Haseler says the signs so far are encouraging but more work is needed.
"We need to understand exactly what these indications mean. For example, is the presence just a quoll passing through this area or do we have a whole family or more living in these habitats?”
“Given the elusive nature of the animal it can be a very laborious task scaling these habitats and setting up camera traps because they're usually restricted to the most remote locations.” says Murray.
Knowing these habitats are already reserved as part of Australia’s National Reserve System does provide the assurance we have time to continue this great work in safeguarding Australia’s wildlife for future generations. Amanda and Lyold's visit has coincided with this week's Bush Blitz on Carnarvon.