Excuse me, is that a quoll in my seat?

Australian pet owners living remotely know how difficult it can be to transfer their furry friends by air from one city to another across our vast geography. And how much they will pay for the privilege.

So imagine flying 11 brown-furred, conspicuously white-spotted western quolls from New South Wales to Western Australia.

And there are no red-e-deals for these cuties. Full fare only.

Called “chuditch” in the Noongar Aboriginal language of the west and about the size of a domestic cat, the male western quoll averages 1.3kg and a female 0.9kg.

But that doesn’t quoll-ify them as carry-on. Purpose-built transport crates were used to temporarily accommodate the critters during their 4,000-kilometre journey from Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo to Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary in Western Australia.

First stop was Sydney Airport, where they boarded flight QF651 to Perth.

Then there was a layover in the nation’s gateway to the west: 2 nights of “monitoring prior to release” at Native Animal Rescue in the Perth suburb of Malaga.

Monitoring done, it was then 5 hours by road from Perth to Mt Gibson, where the animals were fitted with VHF radio tracking collars, before finally joining more than 30 other western quolls which had arrived at the sanctuary earlier this year.

The extraordinary jaunt was all in the name of conservation, part of a program started in 2022 by Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), a donor-funded not-for-profit aiming to conserve native Australian animal species and, just as importantly, their habitats.

Western quolls once roamed nearly 70% of the Australian mainland, but their numbers plummeted following European colonisation.

Apart from rewilding programs, and zoos like Western Plains, the mammals are now found only in the south-western corner of WA, but even there, quoll presence is reportedly “patchy”.

Quolls released at Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary, November 2023. Credit: Supplied.

AWC’s aim is to rewild the western quoll to parts of Australia’s west where they had become locally extinct.

In April, 11 quolls were rewilded to Mt Gibson from Julimar State Forest, then in June another 23 newcomers arrived from Greater Kingston National Park and Perup Nature Reserve, in the south west of WA.

But in November, 11 quolls were sourced from much farther afield, at the conservation breeding program at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, which in all has bred 37 joeys for rewilding.

“The cohort of 11 individuals were carefully selected from the conservation breeding program to ensure we inject genetically robust and diverse individuals into the newly established wild population at Mt Gibson,” said Taronga Wildlife Conservation Officer, Rachael Schildkraut.

Ecologists at Mt Gibson monitor the health and movement of the quolls using drone and ground-based radio tracking, camera traps and ground surveys.

AWC reports that one quoll nicknamed Cuddlepie made his way to the southernmost end of the site and had taken up residence in a rabbit warren.

The Greenlight Project is a year-long look at how regional Australia is preparing for and adapting to climate change.

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