AUSTRALIA'S MINIATURE LEOPARD
Population Size – 6,000 to 10,000
Population Trend – Declining
Major Threats – Habitat destruction, Foxes, Wild dogs, Vehicle strike
When threatened or confronting another quoll, the spotted-tailed quoll may let out an ear-piercing screech that has been compared to the sound of a circular saw. They also make other vocalisations including a low hiss and a soft clicking noise.
Spotted-tailed quolls roam across huge areas, with some males having territories over 5,000 hectares in size. They patrol this home range over periods of several weeks, travelling up to eight kilometres in a single night. Females have smaller territories which they aggressively defend against other females, though they will tolerate their daughters living close by. They communicate with one another using soft hisses and clicking sounds, and when threatened can let out a deafening screech that sounds like a circular saw.
Spotted-tailed quolls were once found all along the eastern Australian coastline, but they have disappeared from more than 90 percent of their range. They are now most common in Tasmania, or in the large forested national parks in eastern New South Wales.
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Spotted-tailed quolls are the largest member of the group, reaching an impressive 1.5 metres from nose to tail. They are equally at home hunting possums, gliders and birds in trees, or chasing down rabbits and bandicoots on the ground. Some populations specialise in hunting prey much larger than themselves, and are able to attack wallabies four times their own size, dispatching them with a vicious killing bite to the back of the neck.
As an important predator and scavenger, quolls are particularly susceptible to baiting programs that target introduced foxes and wild dogs. The typical poison used during these programs is 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate), which is found naturally in a variety of plants in Australia. Lab studies show that while larger male quolls stand a good chance of surviving after eating a single bait, smaller females and juveniles might die.
Field research indicates that while quolls will readily investigate and remove baits, they often abandon the baits before eating them. Furthermore, when quolls do swallow baits, the natural immunity to 1080 poison usually allows them to survive. In one study, a single female ate up to 6 poison baits but managed to survive, indicating that poison baiting is not as big a threat to the survival of the species as other factors such as habitat destruction and competition from cats and foxes.