The remote digital camera was set up to film brush-tailed rock wallabies. But while the creature that crept across the screen in the dusky cave light had a long tail, it also had spots.
The footage caused Grampians National Park ranger in charge Dave Roberts to do a double take. And then pause for a closer look a third time.
His first impression was right. The animal that deftly navigated the narrow passage of the 15-metre-deep cave was indeed a tiger quoll: an endangered animal not seen in the Grampians area for more than 140 years.
”This was completely unexpected,” he said. ”In 18 months of monitoring, we’ve never come across anything that even looked like a native carnivore.”
The last confirmed sighting of a tiger quoll in the Grampians was in 1872, a time when the creature was considered by pastoralists to be a pest.
That animal was killed at the headwaters of the Glenelg River.
To be certain he was looking at a wild tiger quoll, Mr Roberts phoned Halls Gap Zoo and local animal collectors to confirm a captive quoll hadn’t escaped.
The unexpected find fuels hope that where there is one quoll, there will be more. But more importantly, the tiger quoll’s appearance in an area of national park that was severely burnt in 2006 suggests that the species is able to recolonise habitat after the devastating impact of fire.
”It was pretty much scorched earth through there after the fire,” Mr Roberts said. ”So the fact that an animal is back there seven years after the fire means that there is some recolonisation happening from a population elsewhere.”
The existence of a tiger quoll also bodes well for the ecosystem, which needs to be robust enough to support the nocturnal, carnivorous creature at the top of the food chain.
Mr Roberts said that going by its size, the tiger quoll captured on film on Wednesday evening of last week appeared to be a healthy adult weighing about five kilograms.
Listed as endangered in Victoria, the tiger quoll is the mainland’s equivalent to the Tasmanian devil, a top predator that keeps the ecosystem in check.
Until the tiger quoll was filmed last week, it was thought all native carnivores in the Grampians ecosystem had been lost. In their place are introduced foxes and cats.
Read article at the Sydney Morning Herald