Rowena studies quolls, cats & devils

about  Tasmanian Midlands 
on 02 Aug 2016 

Rowena Hamer walks through the supermarket with a trolley full of Seafood Basket, a cheap cat food. While she claims she ‘looks like a crazy cat lady,’ the PhD candidate insists that it’s all in the name of research. Rowena is one of five researchers from the University of Tasmania investigating the animals that live in the Tasmanian Midlands, one of Bush Heritage’s priority landscapes.

Feral cats are a huge threat to our native wildlife and agriculture. Rowena’s research looks at ways to limit the impacts of feral cats on wildlife in the Midlands.

She focuses on four carnivorous mammals: Spotted-tailed Quolls, Eastern Quolls, Tasmanian Devils and feral cats. Rowena wants to know all about these animals. How far do these animals travel? Do they all use the same parts of their habitat (the middle of the woodland, or its edge)? Do they prefer to live in remnant vegetation, replanted woodlands, native grasslands or pastures?

Trapping and tracking

To answer these questions, she’s trapping in four sites through the Midlands. She lures quolls (also known as native cats) and feral cats into the traps using the pungent, prawn-pink mush. Tasmanian Devils aren’t so fond of Seafood Basket, so she baits their traps with lamb chops. Each morning, she checks the traps for animals.

I joined Rowena on a trap-run. On a cold, drizzly morning we drove around the Midlands, checking and rebaiting traps. Out of the vehicle, we squelched our way through the bracken to find five traps: empty, empty, empty, empty and…empty. The next trap? A closed door, brown fur and a tail…with white spots. A Spotted-tailed Quoll!

Before she released the endangered marsupial, Rowena fitted it with a GPS collar. The light-weight collar can stay on the animal for one month. Rowena aims to track the movements of 20 animals of each species – Spotted-tailed Quolls, Eastern Quolls, Tasmanian Devils and feral cats – across four Midland sites. This gives her an incredible insight into how different carnivores use the landscape.

Feral cat control

Rowena’s also testing if the Felixer is safe for cat-shaped animals, like the vulnerable Spotted-tailed Quoll. The Felixer is a robotic grooming trap for feral cats. It uses laser beams to recognise a cat’s shape, triggering a topical poison onto the cat’s fur. The Felixer device was invented by John Read, who has also been trialling the device on Pullen Pullen Reserve, our Night Parrot reserve in western Queensland.

Rowena’s work is one part of a larger research project. ‘Restoring Resilience in Wildlife Populations’ is an Australian Research Council funded partnership between Greening Australia and University of Tasmania in collaboration with Bush Heritage Australia, the Tasmanian Land Conservancy, the Tasmanian Government and many committed landholders.

To read more about cat food, collared quolls and Rowena’s research, visit: https://experiment.com/projects/is-the-felixer-cat-trap-safe-for-native-carnivores

‚Äč- Kate Cranney, Science Communicator Intern.