Helping the endangered Northern Quoll


17 MAY 2022

The endangered northern quoll’s survival prospects have received a boost, with a new project in areas of Far North Queensland where they have survived the invasion of cane toads.

Five organisations will work together on activities including artificial dens for quolls, genetic research and controlled burn programs. Terrain NRM has teamed up with Gulf Savannah NRM, Australian Wildlife Conservancy, James Cook University and Western Yalanji traditional owners to deliver the project at Brooklyn Station Nature Refuge north of the Atherton Tablelands.

The new project will trial conservation methods. This project received grant funding from the Australian Government’s Environment Restoration Fund.

Northern quoll numbers dropped dramatically when cane toads spread through northern Australia. Only found in Queensland, Western Australian and the Northern Territory, the quolls have disappeared from most of their range in Queensland and over half their range in the Northern Territory, while fast disappearing in Western Australia as well. Populations have also been affected by feral cats and habitat loss and change.

“Like a range of other native animals, quolls eat cane toads and are poisoned, and with their short life span and their annual male die-off the population is particularly vulnerable,’’ Terrain’s Dr Andrew Dennis said.

“Some populations, like the one at Brooklyn Station near Mt Carbine, have managed to survive cane toads. It’s possible they’ve learned not to eat them. Now we want to foster their recovery in these areas and expand their home ranges.”

Artificial dens, previously only used on rehabilitating mine sites, will be installed just beyond known quoll home ranges, and surveillance cameras will be set-up.

“If the dens are successful in drawing quolls back out into flat savannah land, they may be a useful tool to reconnect isolated populations of quolls,” Dr Dennis said.

James Cook University researchers, with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, will build on current genetic sampling projects which have found northern quolls are now divided into four distinct genotypes and their genetic diversity declines in isolated populations within each area.

James Cook University’s Dr Conrad Hoskin said with isolated populations there were important genetic considerations to include in conservation efforts.

“Population declines, coupled with lack of gene flow between populations, can lead to issues such as inbreeding,’’ he said.  “The genetic component of this project will help us to better understand where we need to connect populations or possibly improve genetic resilience with translocations.”

Australian Wildlife Conservancy wildlife ecologist Dr Manuela Fischer welcomed the opportunity to research one of the last remaining populations of a species that has declined significantly since the introduction of the cane toads.

“It’s great to be collaborating on a project that will enable us to better understand the northern quoll population on Brooklyn Wildlife Sanctuary and across Far North Queensland,” Dr Fischer said.



“AWC will commence the first genetic testing on the population in the coming months, which will inform options and strategies moving forward for the conservation of the species. We also hope it will give us a better understanding of how this population has persisted despite the presence of cane toads.”

Western Yalanji Traditional Owners will also be working with Australian Wildlife Conservancy on regular fire management, blending traditional and western methods, to improve habitat quality.

Gulf Savannah NRM CEO Zoe Williams also welcomed the new project. “This is a fantastic opportunity to harness the knowledge and skill sets of many different people,” she said. “It will bring together a mix of traditional knowledge, ecological skills and genetic research capabilities to support the recovery of the northern quoll.”


Northern quolls are listed nationally as endangered, with the last population estimation at 100,000 with rapid ongoing decline.

They are the smallest of four Australian quoll species, with a body length of 25-37cm, a reddish brown fur, cream underside, white spots on their backs and rumps, a blackish tail and pointed snout.

Dying for sex: During the mating season (around June to September) males, which are sexually mature at one year of age, expend so much energy seeking access to females ready to mate they do not survive to breed a second year. Females live for two or three years and captive males can live to six years when not covering 100 to 200ha searching for mates.

They are nocturnal predators of invertebrates but also opportunists that eat small mammals, reptiles, birds, carrion and fruit.

The northern quoll’s habitat usually includes rocky areas and tree hollows for dens, with surrounding vegetation for foraging.


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