Quoll Monitoring – Part 2

You know the drill, you’ve read our story on quoll monitoring. So what was different this time you ask? Well, everything.

It’s was May in Canberra and that means one thing – coldness. Puffy jackets and thermals were the trend of the morning with a beanie giving full fashion points. But even having multiple layers doesn’t stop the cold seeping into your bones. That may sound like an exaggeration but we started the monitoring at 2am and the ache in my fingertips stayed with me all that day and well into the night. But not just the temperature made it different, the night was almost completely silent. In February when we came out even the air around us seemed full of life. The buzz of insect wings and the squeaks of microbats hunting in the darkness was all around. But tonight the air was empty. I didn’t have to brush a single moth off my face. Lucky for us though, the traps were full.

This time we thought we’d try something a bit different and try to capture enough video footage to make a short film on the process of quoll monitoring. A full moon lit up Mulligan’s Flat, this half light gave the gums a ghostly quality. Only two sets of headlights lit the slim fire trail, ours, and the ever lively Belinda Wilson’s. You’d think moon light would make it easy to sneak a peak inside the traps as you walked up to them. But no, this was not the case as a hessian sack covered each wire trap giving the nocturnal capture inside a bit of cover from the cold morning. You had to get really close to tell if the door was closed, signalling something was inside. All the quolls on our trapping line were same session recaptures. This meant they’d already been captured during the monitoring session that had taken place three days earlier. Because of this none of the normal sampling activities were necessary. No measurements or weights, and no fur samples that need to avoid the pretty spots.

The quolls just had their microchip number read, were found to have been enticed into a trap by Eau de Sardine (coming soon to a store near you) on Wednesday night and were released. This made the night go very quickly but meant we weren’t able to capture video of the main part of the monitoring process.

That doesn’t mean the night wasn’t exciting and we did get to see something new. Eight female quolls were going to be relocated to Mount Rothwell. Similar to Mulligans, Mount Rothwell is a predator free ecosystem 50km from Melbourne which runs a captive breeding program for the Eastern Quoll, among other species. The female quolls were heading there to increase genetic diversity in the captive breeding program. Bel had specially selected quolls and made a list of those which would be best for the program. Over the course of checking traps she was also choosing which quolls would be travelling to Victoria. These lovely ladies were kept separately in quoll handling bags placed securely in buckets for their trip to the woolshed.

I don’t know what happened!

Through the night we were also greeted with a slightly confused dinner guest. Apparently sardines might be the greatest thing a Brushtail Possum has ever eaten because we had no less than 7 different captures of these little fur balls. They always seem a bit perplexed with the situation they’ve found themselves in when they end up in a trap. Large eyes above a little pink nose stare up at you from the cage as if wondering how it all came to this.

The woolshed is about 1km from the Mulligans main gate and carpark, it has an interesting life now as a central space for tours, seminars and launching points for works in the sanctuary. It’s even seen some glamorous use as a pop-up restaurant. Tonight’s return to the woolshed was distinctly less glamourous for most of the volunteers. You see…. how do I put this… there isn’t a bathroom in the traps set up to monitor Mulligan’s charges. So, these traps, and their protective hessian sacks, get dirty. The scat samples form a really important part of the monitoring, providing insight on diet and even overall health for each individual animal. A quoll poo filled with beetle shells is also surprisingly pretty.

While everyone else was cleaning the traps we snuck into a back shed (being the photographer has it’s perks!). This small space was full of equipment used at Mulligans. Wooden crates and plastic pet cages lined one wall. The cages, converted cat cages really, were already prepared for their special charges. Straw lined the bottom of each cage and signs were attached t to let everyone know a live animal was inside.

Bel and one of the volunteers, Maddi, quickly set to work. For each quoll the microchip had to be checked so the individual could be identified. Then all their paperwork was organised, this included the details on weight and health characteristics captured in the notes from Wednesday night. Once this was in order Bel carefully took the quoll out of its bag and gently lowered it into its cage. This process was repeated until all quolls were happily nestled in the straw of their new temporary accommodation. The quolls were booked on a flight leaving later that day for Melbourne. Peering through the front bars we could just make out the wet pink noses and reflective eyes shining back up at us through the straw, safe travels ladies!

After this it was time to say goodbye and make our way home. All we could think of was having a hot shower and a cup of coffee! As we drove the sunrise coloured the clouds in dusky pinks and yellows. We felt like we’d put in a full days work (if you can call taking photos and videos that!) and it wasn’t even 7am yet. Luckily it was a Saturday and we didn’t have to rush off to the office, our only job for the day was to become conscious enough to vote in the election. We’re not sure when we’ll be back out with the quolls, it can’t come around again fast enough!

Precious cargo

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