Quoll-ity Hop to Life

Researchers teaching endangered Quolls not to eat cane toads. Now, Quolls are teaching their young.

Doubling his life expectancy, Brian the quoll has become the favourite amongst rangers at Brisbane’s Walkabout Creek.

Fed only a carnivorous diet, the life expectancy of native Quoll ranges from two to five years. Brian is currently eight years young, with nothing affecting his cheeky attitude.

Quolls are not frequented to the D’Aguilar National Parks, as Brian was bought from a breeder in Northern Queensland. However, Quolls nationally remain a severely endangered species.

Cane toads are quoll’s major threat, since their introduction to Queensland in 1935. Numbers have grown exponentially, and thus the Quoll species declining as they consume their poisonous glands.

In recent years, Queensland has implemented conservation efforts of native species and the eradication of the invasive toad. In spite of this, it looks like we won’t be seeing the back of the toad any time soon.

In a recent report conducted by the CSIRO, the most cost-effective strategies for predator control including cane toads still have an “estimated annualised cost of $16 million over the next 50 years”.

This includes “asset protection, PhD research projects on control efforts, monitoring and trapping: localised eradication, surveillance and biosecurity hotspots, and education.”

In a race to further protect native marsupials, including the endangered Quoll, the University of Sydney created a program in 2010 in a bid to teach species to be repulsed by the smell of cane toads.

The study fed half of 62 young quolls with sausages laced with nausea-inducing thisbendazole along with the scent cane toads – without their fatal toxin. The other half were left as a comparison sample.

After being tagged and released back into the wild, it was found that “toad-smart” quolls survived up to five times longer than “toad-naïve” quolls.

Researchers were inspired by this approach through an adaptation of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, where the Grandma sews raw onions into the wolf’s stomach – so he felt sick and would vow never to eat another Grandma again.

This study has now been implemented throughout Australia, including Northern Queensland wildlife centres and parks.

In recent months, researchers have noticed “toad-smart” quolls have begun teaching their offspring the dangers of cane toads.

Northern Territory Wildlife Park ranger Damien Stanioch says that the second and third generation released into Kakadu have been surviving alongside cane toads.

“Whether that’s because of a genetic adaptation or a behavioural adaptation we don’t know,” Mr Stanioch said.

“Once they’re bred here at the park we will be crossing Queensland northern quolls with Territory northern quolls.”