Nestled between three sandy deserts, Karlamilyi National Park was not thought to be a likely home for rock-dwelling northern quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus), whose usual distribution is about 200km to the west. Nonetheless, there have been two confirmed records of the species in the park two years apart, both in Desert Queen Baths, where permanent pools lie scattered through rocky sandstone gorges.
Research scientist Judy Dunlop said the initial discovery, made in 2012 by consultant ecologists Jeff Turpin and Mike Bamford undertaking a survey for a mining company, was significant for the species because of the location. “Northern quolls have suffered serious population decline and contraction of habitat due to introduced predators such as feral cats, altered fire regimes and habitat destruction through pastoralism and industry,” she said.
“In addition to the discovery of quoll scats, the 2012 record was confirmed by remote camera images of quolls and genetic analysis of the scats,” she said
Following this, Parks and Wildlife and Martu rangers from the Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ) organisation have been on the lookout for these spotted nocturnal creatures in the park.
Karlamilyi is a significant area for the Martu, who are the traditional owners of the park and the surrounding country.
Judy said the Martu rangers put out remote cameras over summer in the same rocky gorge of Desert Queen Baths where the original discovery was made. “They were excited to find that one northern quoll was photographed,” she said. “In April this year, operations officer Gary Hearle and I went with the team to set traps throughout the gorge and several of its offshoots. Unfortunately, no quolls were captured. “It seems unlikely that there’s a breeding population in Karlamilyi, as we were there during the perfect time of year to catch young that are leaving the dens and searching for food. “What it does suggest is that they are dispersing a long way, possibly hundreds of kilometres, to arrive here.”
The northern quoll’s range is across the top of Australia, from the Kimberley to Queensland, with an isolated population existing in the rocky Pilbara. Quoll populations in the Kimberley, Northern Territory and Queensland are also severely affected by poisonous cane toads. The Pilbara currently remains the last stronghold for toad-free quoll populations. With the support of Parks and Wildlife, the Martu rangers will continue to monitor the area for signs of quolls.