From Operation Bounceback to Quoll Protection Program

A SSAA-backed conservation project is continuing to thrive thanks to decades of feral animal control and recent increased involvement by dedicated SSAA hunters. Our hunters are protecting more than 150 spotted mammals known as western quolls, that have travelled the long journey from Western Australia to a new home in South Australia’s outback, as part of a landmark reintroduction project by the Foundation for Australia’s Most Endangered Species (FAME).

The quolls are being closely watched by SA Government project officers on the ground to ensure the critical critters are surviving in their former natural habitat. The SSAA witnessed first-hand the last release of 15 quolls into the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park last May. A total of 93 quolls have been re-homed between 2014 and 2016 and they now occupy an area where they had previously not been seen for more than a century.

According to reports from the SA Government’s on-ground monitoring teams, of the 15 quolls released in May, one male has been killed, possibly by a bird of prey, while the remaining animals are surviving and even breeding. Survey data indicates that there could be around 160 quolls in the area.

The SSAA South Australia Conservation and Wildlife Management Branch (SSAA SA CWM) remains a key player in the project, with its feral cat culling activities labelled the Quoll Protection Program currently underway. SSAA SA CWM President Tony Judd said that a team of “dedicated environmentalists” have been asked to “increase our efforts” in terms of feral cat control, with spotlighting trips growing and taking place almost monthly. “The lowest culls we’ve recorded is two cats, with the most being 15 or so,” he said.

Along with feral cat control, volunteer hunters are supplying crucial data to two university research projects. Researchers from the University of Melbourne are looking at toxoplasmosis, a disease understood to have been introduced into Australia by a cat and which also infects most other animals. “There is a suggestion that this disease can change the animal’s behaviour and it may contribute to their demise,” said Tony. Hunters are assisting by taking muscle and tongue samples from any feral cats culled: a task not for the faint-hearted.

In addition, the University of New England is looking at genomics and DNA sequencing of feral cats across Australia. “The study is set to tell the tale of interbreeding and can impact on control mechanisms,” said Tony. Ear samples are taken by hunters for analysis.

The Quoll Protection Program, along with a $60,000 donation from SSAA National, demonstrates how the shooting community continues to contribute to the conservation of our native species. For more than 20 years, SSAA SA CWM has been involved in the state government Operation Bounceback project, with a key focus on fox, cat, rabbit, donkey and goat control. The aim was to protect the natural habitat across the Ikara-Flinders Ranges and essentially paved the way for the return of the quolls, along with the re-establishment of yellow-footed rock-wallaby populations.

Joining the quolls in their new home is a contingent of brushtail possums, also native to the area, with 148 released into the Ranges by FAME to date.

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