An adorable species of marsupial not seen for over a century has been caught by a farmer.
The spotted-tailed quoll—also known as the tiger quoll—was last seen in South Australia in the 1880s. Somehow, one of these marsupials ended up captured in a trap meant to catch the creature that had been harassing a trout farmer’s chickens. Instead of finding a feral cat or fox as expected, Pao Ling Tsai discovered the assumed-extinct quoll.
“The species was considered extinct in South Australia, with no official records for some 100 years or more,” National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Limestone Coast district ranger Ross Anderson told Newsweek. “There have been unofficial records since that time.”
“I expected to find a cat, but I found this little animal instead,” Pao told local news ABC South East SA. “It was incredible. I had no idea what it was at first.”
Spotted-tailed quolls were considered extinct in South Australia, and are listed as endangered across the rest of the country by the Australian Department of the Environment and Heritage, with some small and declining populations in southeastern Australia. The quolls are listed as “near threatened” on the IUCN Red List, and there are thought to be only around 5,000 left in the world.
These small marsupials measure in at between 4 and 7 pounds, yet are the largest marsupial predator on the mainland, and second only to the Tasmanian devil across the whole of Australia. The quolls usually eat a wide range of prey, including lizards, snakes, poultry, small rodents, and other marsupials such as wombats and wallabies. Occasionally, they may scavenge from larger prey like kangaroos, dingoes and even cattle.
These little predators are arboreal, meaning that they are adept at climbing around in trees, where they often hunt for possums and birds.
The species is mainly threatened by habitat loss, as well as competition with introduced predators, pesticide poisoning and motor-vehicle collisions.
“Part of the reason they’re thought to have become extinct here in the South East is due to a loss of habitat, but they can survive anywhere from forests to more open country,” Anderson told ABC. “They are an animal that can move long distances, up to 15 square kilometres [5.8 square miles].
“The biggest threat to them is other predators like foxes or cats,” Anderson added.
The quoll ended up escaping the farmer’s cage, so Pao laid pieces of fish around his farm and set up video cameras to try to capture the animal, or others, on camera.
“I definitely think there are more. When I went out this morning [on Thursday], all the food was taken,” he said.
“I’ve given the video to National Parks and Wildlife to see what animal took the food, but I think it was another quoll or quolls.”
The quoll was caught in another trap by the NPWS on Wednesday, and the experts hope to genetically test the animal to join the dots of its origins.
“It may be a Lone Ranger that has traveled a long distance, a member of a relict population or an escape from captivity,” Anderson told Newsweek.
The NPWS officers also hope to observe the area to see if there are more of the creatures in the vicinity, and if so, hope to capture them to study them in more detail.
“We have set more traps and we’re hoping to see if we can either trap or video more of them,” Anderson said. “We’ll also set up some night-vision cameras to determine if there are more quolls at that farm or in the Beachport area.”
The NPWS has urged locals not to attempt to capture the endangered marsupial themselves, as this may risk injuring the quoll.
“The traps that we’ve set won’t harm an animal. We wouldn’t recommend people try to trap them or interact with them themselves, however, but trail cameras are a really good way of recording and monitoring any suspected quoll populations or activity in the local area,” Anderson said.
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