A TEAM of researchers filming near Bulahdelah has been stunned to discover the presence of the biggest carnivore marsupial in mainland Australia.
The tiger quoll – or spotted-tail quoll – has been pushed to the brink of extinction in NSW and, favouring hollows and thick forest, wasn’t thought to exist in the Bulahdelah Plain Wetland.
But after training a motion triggered camera on a scant wildlife trail, a MidCoast Council team of ecologists found the shock discovery stored in the gadget’s memory.
“You can leave these cameras out for weeks or months, that’s the beauty of them, and sometimes you’ll just find a thousand photos of a shrub blowing in the wind,” senior ecologist Mat Bell said.
“But this is the type of discovery that changes our understanding of the land, and changes the way we manage the land.”
The research team had been targeting foxes and wild dogs in the wetland with poison bait, but Mr Bell said the discovery of tiger quolls would call for a change of strategy.
Tiger quolls are efficient hunters and unfussy carnivores that eat everything from insects to small wallabies, but they are also prone to disruption in their vast home ranges.
Human impact on the brittle social structures that govern a quoll’s range can pit it against other quolls, foxes or wild dogs, or bring it near busy roads.
“Unfortunately, they also have a taste for getting into people’s chook sheds,” Mr Bell said.
“They see that as an easy meal.”
Human-quoll relations reached a flashpoint in January when Raymond Terrace resident Katina Stowe awoke to a dapple-coated intruder trashing her bathroom.
Done with knocking over bottles of shampoo and conditioner, it fell asleep in the sink and fled the next morning.
The tiger quoll’s discovery on the Bulahdelah Wetland Plain is the research team’s second shock marsupial find in the space of four months.
In February the same cameras picked up a long-nosed potoroo, also thought non-existent on the wetland plain.
That rabbit-sized discovery was lured out with the scent of truffle oil.
Mr Bell said the tiger quoll just happened to be passing by.
“They’re incredible animals, as efficient in trees as on the ground,” he said.
“Now we know they’re there, I’m pretty optimistic about it.”
Tiger quolls grow to about the size of domestic cats, but have shorter legs and pointier faces.
Average adult females weigh two kilograms and males weigh 3.5kg.
They den in rock shelters, caves, logs and tree hollows.