Otways Conservation Dogs find evidence of endangered tiger quoll in Great Otway National Park
Ted is a member of the Otways Conservation Dogs, a team on a special mission to help protect the endangered Tiger Quoll from extinction. This week the former rescue dog made a very important discovery when he detected a wild quoll scat in the Cumberland Valley of the Great Otway National Park.
The Otways Conservation Dogs was initiated by the Conservation Ecology Centre after the organisation rediscovered Tiger Quolls in the Otways in 2012. The program involves a team of community volunteers working with their own dogs across a wide range of breeds, trained to work with minimal environmental impact to detect scats (droppings) of the endangered species. These scats have the potential to provide vital information to ecologists, significantly assisting conservation efforts.
Finding this evidence of tiger quolls presence is very challenging, however. Since the species’ rediscovery only four confirmations have been made and this evidence has been discovered far and wide across the region.
Conservation & Research Manager, Dr Jack Pascoe, said “The fact that the evidence collected over the last few years is so wide spread is encouraging as it suggests this is not just one or two individuals but a small population.
“However, sightings of quolls are rare, confirmed evidence is scarce and the species’ future is precarious. We need to gather data as quickly as possible to understand where quolls are surviving and how viable their population is. This information is crucial for effectively managing the Otways for their conservation.”
Parks Victoria Ranger Katrina Lovett said, “Parks Victoria needs good data to plan and manage for species preservation and habitat management in parks. Partnering with community organisations and citizen science volunteers can really assist in this. The Otways Conservation Dogs program is a truly inspiring example of partnership in action.”
Luke Edwards of Canidae Development has instructed the Otways Conservation Dogs since the program’s inception. He says “Dogs make an incredible contribution to our society; they can help us gather information in ways which we could never manage without them.
“Effective conservation detection dogs must have a wide range of skills – they must be fit enough to work long days in challenging environments, be confident to think and problem solve independently, and they need to be able to communicate effectively with their handlers. The dogs are highly trained and must pass rigorous assessments before they are deployed to work under Research Permits in the National Park.”
What is most surprising about this story is that its hero was once a lost dog. Found wandering the streets of Geelong in very poor condition in 2013, he was rescued by the Geelong Animal Welfare Society and then adopted into a new life at Cape Otway by Lizzie Corke and Shayne Neal, founders of the Conservation Ecology Centre. He was named Ted and since then has become a much loved member of the family and, clearly, an outstanding detection dog.
Jack Pascoe says “Ted loves his life and his job – he works tirelessly in difficult terrain and is absolutely dedicated to the search – he knows he has a very important job and our ecologists feel very privileged to work alongside him and the rest of the Otways Conservation Dogs teams.”
We’ll all be having a Prickly Moses Spotted Ale to celebrate!
Learn more about the Otways Conservation Dogs.
Learn more about the Endangered Species Surveillance Network Program.
As koala habitat continues to decline we are continuing to work towards a a better understanding of the situation in order to contribute to future management.
Supervised by Professor Clive McAlpine and the research team at the CEC, Dr Manuelle Cottin and Research Assistant Nicole Davies will be collecting data during the next month, both at CEC and across the neighbouring woodlands, both on private land and through the Great Otway National Park. By collecting data on the condition of koalas and of their trees, researchers will be able to gain more knowledge on the diet and the stress levels of koalas in different habitats.
More news about the results of this study soon!
Local Parks Victoria Ranger, Nick Alexeyeff, collected a scat in the National Park, not far from the CEC property. He handed it in to us for DNA testing by cesar and it has been confirmed as Tiger Quoll – making it the second confirmed piece of evidence of quolls in the region in a month! After nearly a decade it is wonderful to know that there are a few quolls still hanging on in the wilds of the Otways. It makes our conservation work even more vital. The DNA from this scat will be compared with the first to gain some preliminary insights into the genetic diversity of the population.
This is the Media Release from Parks Victoria. Issued 28th May 2012
Parks Victoria has received confirmation that a scat (that’s poo to most of us) found by Ranger Nick Alexeyeff in the Great Otway National Park is that of the rare Spot-tailed Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus), also known as a Tiger Quoll.
It is another piece of evidence that Spot-tailed Quolls are still living in the park.
Nick Alexeyeff collected the scat in the Cape Otway area. “I was walking through quite thick bush in the park with some contractors looking at options for a realignment of the Great Ocean Walk.
“There was a big fallen tree in our path covered in moss, and a scat right on top. I took a closer look and noticed fine filaments of fur which told me it came from a predator and could be a quoll.
“It was almost as if this big tree was like a highway running through the scrub and a regular track taken by the animal,” said Nick.
“I emptied my lunch box, popped in the scat and took it to the Conservation Ecology Centre who arranged to have it DNA tested, and we have now received confirmation it is a quoll.”
The scat was confirmed as that of a Spot-tailed (Tiger) Quoll after a rigorous DNA analysis by Dr Andrew Weeks at cesar, a research centre specialising in genetic analysis for wildlife conservation in Melbourne.
“Scats contain DNA from the source animal, so we can determine the species which left the scat using species specific DNA markers,” Dr Weeks explained. Cesar will now undertake further testing to better understand the origins of the animal.
The Quoll is a predator at the top end of the food chain. It is the largest carnivorous marsupial remaining on mainland Australia, so is not found in high numbers, but this evidence is the first in 13 years that quolls are active in the park.
The Conservation Ecology Centre’s CEO, Lizzie Corke, explains that these animals are already endangered, and although the Otways has traditionally been a stronghold for the species, there has been a dramatic decline in numbers.
“Introduced predators such as foxes and cats have combined with habitat destruction and fragmentation of populations such that the species is now critically in danger of extinction in this region.”
Jack Dinkgreve, Parks Victoria Ranger in Charge for the East Otways added that the scat was found in an area where a
fox control program has been operating for several years.
“We have been working on fox control continuously for three or four years now and we believe that may well have made a difference. Removing foxes and other pests like wild cats give animals like the quoll a much better chance of surviving and thriving,” he said.
Because of their large home ranges and their position at the top of the food chain, efforts made to conserve the Tiger Quoll benefit a wide range of other species which depend on the habitats of the Otways.
To understand more about the Tiger Quoll, Parks Victoria, the Department of Sustainability and Environment, and the Conservation Ecology Centre (CEC) are surveying for them using established techniques such as remote sensor cameras. The CEC is also developing a team of detection dogs, trained to search out Tiger Quoll scats.
“This discovery has created a fair amount of excitement in our office, it means that the park is doing its job, protecting our native wildlife for the future,” Jack Dinkgreve added.
Listen to the interview on ABC Radio National.
Holidaymakers in the Otways have unknowingly collected the first evidence of endangered Tiger Quolls in the Otways for almost a decade. The scat has just been confirmed as that of a Tiger Quoll through DNA analysis by Dr Andrew Weeks at cesar, a research centre specialising in genetic analysis for wildlife conservation in Melbourne.
Tiger Quolls are the largest marsupial carnivores remaining on the Australian mainland, and, as an apex predator, living at the top of the food chain, the species plays an important role in the ecosystem.
Already endangered, Tiger Quoll populations are declining across their entire range. Although the Otways has traditionally been a stronghold for the species, introduced predators such as foxes and cats have
combined with habitat destruction and fragmentation of populations resulting in dramatic declines over the last several decades and the species is now critically in danger of extinction in this region.
The great news unfolded recently when holidaymakers went to check a heavy thump on their back deck, and found a ‘spotted, ginger’ animal ‘a bit like a big possum’. The animal, which reminded the observers of a Tassie Devil, nonchalantly wandered across the deck, then stopped to drop a scat before jumping off.
Luckily the holidaymakers had the foresight to collect the scat and popped into the local Visitor Information Centre to ask about what they might have seen. The staff there gave them the contact details for the Conservation Ecology Centre (CEC) at Cape Otway.
With the support of their Patron, the Hon. Steve Bracks AC, the CEC is working to conserve Tiger Quolls across the Otways, working with government land management agencies and private landholders.
The Centre’s Co-Founder and CEO, Lizzie Corke, explains why these animals are a top priority for the Centre:
“Healthy and robust ecosystems are vital for the survival of us all and every species lost further jeopardises the ability of these ecosystems to bounce back. Because of their large home ranges and their position at the top of the food chain, efforts made to conserve the Tiger Quoll benefit a wide range of other species which depend on the habitats of the Otways. So much has been lost already that we need to make an urgent and concerted effort to care for what we have left.”
Acting Senior Biodiversity Officer at The Department of Sustainability and Environment, Saul Vermeeren, discusses the Otways quoll population:
“We don’t know how many quolls we still have living in the wilds of the Otways, or if they still constitute a genetically viable population. The confirmation that Quolls still exist in the region gives us the power to make informed planning
decisions on the management of public land. Hopefully by undertaking more intensive surveys and considering appropriate land management practices we will be able to generate positive outcomes for the species that will allow it to flourish in the wild.”
To understand more about the Tiger Quoll, DSE, Parks Victoria and the Conservation Ecology Centre are surveying for them using established techniques such as remote sensor cameras. The CEC is also developing a team of detection dogs, trained to search out Tiger Quoll scats. Tiger Quoll scats are then confirmed through DNA analyses.
“Scats contain DNA from the source animal, and we can therefore determine the species which left the scat using species specific DNA markers” Dr Andrew Weeks explains.
A key threat to Tiger Quolls is invasive predators, particularly foxes, and efforts to decrease fox numbers are vital for ensuring the future of Tiger Quolls in the Otways.
If you have seen a Tiger Quoll or are interested in getting involved with the program as a volunteer contact us.
Thanks to a Parks Victoria Healthy Parks Healthy People Community Grant, the Conservation Ecology Centre will be undertaking a survey of koalas and their habitats in 2012. We will be collecting information which will provide insights into the koala population and how their habitat has changed over the last 12 months, carrying out soil tests and habitat condition assessments.
Join us on:
Thursday 23rd, Friday 24th and Saturday 25th February
Thursday 8th, Friday 9th and Saturday 10th March
There will be a training session on the first day as a refresher and for any new team members. Contact us to let us know if you are interested in getting involved on any (or all!) of these dates.
Of course the surveys will be lots of fun with good food, good company and beautiful field sites!
The Conservation Ecology Centre is embarking on an important project to control foxes and feral cats as part of our Tiger Quoll Flagship Project.
Foxes and cats are very adaptable and extremely proficient at making themselves at home in the Australian environment. Foxes and cats compete with endangered Tiger Quolls for prey and foxes may also kill young quolls. These introduced predators also have a devastating impact on many other Australian wildlife species including small mammals and birds, so our efforts to control them under our Flagship program will assist with the conservation of many other native species.
How we’re able to undertake the project
The feral predator control project is supported by a State Government Caring for our Country Community Action Grant and will concentrate on private land bordering the Great Otway National Park. The work will complement existing fox and cat control programs carried out by Parks Victoria and DSE. Engaging around 30 landholders and individual properties will lead to a coordinated approach which is vital for effective feral predator management and will significantly contribute to landscape conservation.