Searching for an elusive, possibly extinct animal

THE eastern quoll may still be hiding in your backyard, even though wildlife organizations believe it is extinct on the mainland of Australia.

Historically there were two kinds of the native marsupial found in the northern part of New South Wales: the tiger quoll, the largest found in Australia, and the eastern quoll.

The eastern quoll is a small carnivore, no larger than a small cat. It has brown or black fur with white spots on its body and a brushy, spot-free tail.

It is different from its large brother, which has white spots over all of its body, including its longer tail.

It was not so long ago that eastern quolls lived in grasslands and dense forests from South Australia to the Queensland border.

But when Europeans came, they brought with them cats, foxes, dogs and animal disease.

No one, even today, knows exactly what the final blow was, but in 1963 the last known eastern quoll on the mainland was hit by a car at Vaucluse in Sydney.

But the story does not end there, for eastern quolls still live in Tasmania, where dingo and foxes have been few.

The quolls were very common, but unfortunately, there is evidence their numbers are in steep decline.

It may be that foxes have established themselves in Tasmania or that feral cats are moving into territory that was once occupied by Tasmanian devils.

Whatever the reason, we could lose this beautiful animal in our lifetime.

Many government and private organizations are working hard to save this important carnivore. The Secret Creek Sanctuary (Australian Ecosystems Foundation) at Lithgow has the largest breeding program in Australia and has successfully bred eastern quoll for many years.

Their breeding stock came from Tasmania because not one mainland eastern quoll was alive for breeding purposes.

If there were any genetic differences in the mainland animals, it was lost forever.

If a small population of eastern quoll still live on the mainland, they would be of great importance in improving the genetics for any future breeding.

I need your help, for I believe there may still be eastern quolls living on the north coast to New England area.

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