South West (Vic) Eastern Quoll Hub – first steps in an exciting new partnership

In an exciting step towards Nature Glenelg Trust’s long-term plan to return the Eastern Quoll into the forest surrounding Mt Vandyke, it is great to be able to share the news that we are partnering with the Dunkeld Pastoral Co Pty Ltd and Rhynie Pastoral (owners of Shepherds Hut Sanctuary), jointly forming the South West Eastern Quoll Hub.

We’re extremely proud to be partnering with two respected agricultural enterprises in South West Victoria that also have a conservation focus as part of their core business.

In addition to NGT’s recently constructed 34 hectare (85 acre) safe haven at Mt Vandyke, Rhynie Pastoral’s Shepherds Hut Sanctuary is a fully operational 55 hectare (137 acre) safe haven situated at Maroona, east of the Grampians, that was fenced in 2016. Since then, the conservation outcomes which have emerged at this site have been incredibly positive. Celia Tucker from Rhynie Pastoral explains what they have observed as this project has evolved:

“We released the first Southern Brown Bandicoots (Isoodon obesulus) in 2016 and Brush-tailed Bettongs/Woylies (Bettongia penicillata) in 2020. Both species are thriving and we have been fortunate to have the opportunity to introduce new genetics from time to time for both species.”

A juvenile Southern Brown Bandicoot detected during surveys in Shepherds Hut Sanctuary. Photo: Rhynie Pastoral
A Striped Legless Lizard encountered in Shepherds Hut Sanctuary. Photo: Rhynie Pastoral

Also as a result of the Sanctuary being predator free we’ve seen an explosion in the population of Swamp Rats (Rattus lutreolus) and these three mammals combined have created a constant food source for raptors and owls. As a result we are seeing an increased number of Nankeen Kestrels, Black-shouldered Kites, Whistling Kites, Black Kites, Brown Falcons, Australian Hobbies, Barn Owls and Southern Boobook Owls.

The digging and foraging nature of the small mammals has dramatically changed the soil structure across the sanctuary. It has gone from being a compacted, typical agricultural soil from years of set stocking to a more loose and friable soil with improved water infiltration.

During our survey work since completion of the Sanctuary, we have sighted Growling Grass Frogs and Striped Legless Lizards which is also really exciting news.”

Of note, Shepherds Hut Sanctuary is still rotationally grazed by livestock as part of the farming production enterprise at Rhynie Pastoral. The parallel recovery of the Sanctuary as a complex functioning ecosystem will be further enhanced as we work together, via the South West Eastern Quoll Hub, towards returning the Eastern Quoll to this part of the landscape.

A short distance away, south of the Grampians near Dunkeld, Dunkeld Pastoral Co Pty Ltd is also now constructing a new 95 hectare (238 acre) safe haven to complement their existing Eastern Quoll captive breeding facility, thanks to the Australian Government’s Environment Restoration Fund, via a Threatened Species Strategy Action Plan grant.

Eastern Quoll at the Dunkeld Pastoral Co Pty Ltd captive breeding facility. Photo: ABC South West Victoria, Emily Bissland

The aims of our three organisations, in forming the South West Eastern Quoll Hub, are simply to:

  • complement the good work of others already actively working with the Eastern Quoll on the mainland (see Mulligans Flat example here / Tiverton example here / Booderee NP example here / Barrington Tops example here)
  • cooperate, work together and share knowledge
  • coordinate our efforts and share resources across our fenced safe havens, given our shared goals and geographic proximity
  • facilitate the future conservation and recovery (including potential wild reintroduction) of the Eastern Quoll in South West Victoria

We still have a number of steps to take over the next few years, before the experimental return of the Eastern Quoll can take place at Mt Vandyke, but partnering with Dunkeld Pastoral Co Pty Ltd and Rhynie Pastoral is another important milestone on that journey. Of note, because the three sites have different landscape attributes and land management practices, we’ll have the opportunity to learn from each other and improve our collective knowledge. Although Mt Vandyke is smaller than the other two safe havens, it is uniquely placed by being situated within the middle of a Protected Area (Cobboboonee National Park) that is the subject of a continuous fox baiting program (Glenelg Ark).

By the way, after a busy first 12 months at Mt Vandyke, we’ve recently been taking stock after wrapping up the different grants that have supported the project so far, and will have more news on what comes next over the coming months; so watch this space!

South West Eastern Quoll Hub partners:

Mark Bachmann