REPORT INTERIM CLOSURE OF KAURI CREEK ROAD TO ESTABLISH ROAD USAGE IMPACTS DURING THE BREEDING CYCLE OF THE NORTHERN SPOTTED-TAILED QUOLL (DASYURUS MACULATUS GRACILIS)
Compiled by Alberto Vale and Luke Jackson 2017© No reproduction or excerpts are allowed in any form or media, unless written authorisation by co-writers is obtained
INTRODUCTION In response to concerns by the Australian Quoll Conservancy (AQC) that the population of Spotted Tailed Quolls on the Lamb Range was disappearing, the AQC requested that QPWS close Kauri Creek Road (which straddles the core habitat of possibly the only two remaining quolls in the area) during the core breeding season being primarily winter months (June – September). QPWS and WTMA approved the request as detailed below in italics. The approval specifies what is required of the AQC by the QPWS. QPWS APPROVAL REQUIREMENTS QPWS recognises information from a number of sources, including AQC, that quoll populations on the Lamb Range are low and probably have declined over recent years. The direct cause of such decline remains unknown but has been suggested as being due to a range of factors including, but not limited to, reducing food resource, increasing numbers of cane toads and potentially other threats, and as you have outlined, the 1
possible impact of vehicles and inappropriate use by some recreational users. In recognition of the decline in quoll numbers and to ensure support to your worthy research proposal, I can confirm that QPWS is supportive of a closure of the Kauri Creek Road in Danbulla National Park for the period of 1 May 207 to 31 August 2017 subject to the following requirements: · Research as outlined within the Australian Quoll Conservancy Proposal (“Proposal”) must be undertaken and reports provided in a timely manner to QPWS for review. · Monitoring of road use by motorised vehicles can be undertaken however such monitoring must be for the purpose of presence and absence, rather than compliance based assessment (compliance based assessment is deemed a QPWS role). · Monitoring of road use by motorised vehicles must include at least as much duration of road use outside the designated trial closure (to ensure road use data is captured during road opening). In addition, monitoring of the impact of road use (by motorised vehicles) on quolls must be assessed during a period when the road is open to ensure that information can be gathered about any potential impact of motorised vehicle use on Quolls. This should be developed into further research proposals. It remains difficult to see how the Proposal will generate suitable information about a causal link between road use and quoll breeding in the absence of assessment when the road is open for vehicle use. The trial closure of the Kauri Creek road for 4 months in 2017 is for this year (2017) only at this stage and no commitment will be provided for further years, pending results of the research and its assessment. While use of the Kauri Creek road remains at a low level. It is still considered a worthy tourism, visitor and management asset providing access to a small but important area of park estate. OUTLINED AQC RESEARCH FROM THE RESEARCH PROPOSAL As required by QPWS, the AQC is required to take research as outlines in the AQC Proposal to close the road, this being: •
Deploy motion sensor cameras along the length of Kauri Creek Road from the beginning of the ridge line (end of eucalyptus country/beginning of rainforest habitat) to the Mt Haig turn off. This equates to a distance of 4km. (see attached map 1),
Cameras would be deployed every (revised methodology) 500 m non baited (rather than initial 1000 m baited), with only one camera being baited in accordance with the requirements of our scientific purposes permit (# WITK16516115),
(Revised methodology) Non baited Cameras would be monitored every month and the baited camera every 4th day, with baits replenished as necessary,
In the formal proposal to QPWS, “Kvassay Bags” (plastic lattice folded into a square to contain bait) or AQC Trademark “DeNunes Canisters” (Poly pipe with holes drilled into it with chicken contained inside) would be used to hold bait. These 2
methods were invented by “Glen Kvassay” and “Alberto Vale” respectively and have been widely used by the AQC. The revised methodology used instead of the above mentioned a new AQC trademark DeNunes Spout, where very small amounts of bait where enclosed, allowing quolls the only species being able to access the bait, thus eliminating by-catch i.e. birds of prey, rats and brush-turkeys the easy access to the bait. •
All non baited Motion Sensor Cameras were set for photographs, while the baited camera was set to obtain video only. The set up included high end professional cameras that were specifically modified by Alberto Vale to maximise opportunities for pouch viewing. The AQC in conjunction with WildCAM Australia® has now perfected this method, achieving non invasive genre identification without the need of handling or stressing any of the animals,
The targeted quoll species were at no time captured, touched or interfered with in anyway. The cameras performed all the required work in a non-invasive way,
Monitor illegal use of the road during this time – photographing number plates of illegal road users and reporting them to National Parks,
Monitor other species of animals taken on the cameras as well as by way of spotlighting expeditions in the area at night searching for possums, a key prey of STQs, and
Collate data and prepare a report to National Parks on data results.
STUDY RESULTS The AQC undertook research within the extents of the QPWS approval as outlined previously. The results of the road closure indicate significant breeding success by the resident female, and also her not previously detected offspring. All non baited cameras at all displayed sites revealed a significant number of prey species ranging, from rodents, pademelons, rainforest birds, pigs, musky rat kangaroos and bandicoots and the significant absenteeism of Atherton Antechinus, found quite regularly on AQC cameras between 2013 and 2015. AQC conducted during the new moon a total of 3 spotlighting surveys extending 3.5 km over the 4 km Kauri Ck Rd ridge ending towards Tinaroo Lake. The rainforest species present included regular and steady sightings of Lemuroid possums, Herbert River possums, Green ringtail possums, leaf tailed geckos, frogs, chameleon geckos, pademelons, bandicoots and sparse sightings of cane toads at lower altitudes >900 m. It is noted that during the road closure period, only during the month of May, road usage breaches by motorised vehicles were: 4 off road vehicles and 6 trail bikes. The remaining months upon prompt QPWS compliance and reinforcement security of gates, no further motor vehicles or all terrain bikes, were detected using the road. 3
The AQC research results are summarised following: •
AQC found in 2016 only two of the three existing camera trapped animals, two males and one female existed in the area. One male failed to be ever found again after March 2016. This left one male and one female that the AQC confirms its existence for the whole area of the Lamb Range. These two animals managed to have had a successful breeding season later in August 2016, unknown to the AQC and despite the road being open.
Due to personal health issues, work commitments and holidays, the AQC team comprising of Alberto vale and Luke Jackson were largely absent in above mentioned breeding season at Lamb Range during 2016. The AQC failure to obtain data for the 2016 breeding season meant the animal breeding season went unnoticed. Despite earlier signs by the female showing an expanded pouch, AQC team disregarded the images and the use of pouch monitoring viewing systems as previous encounters of the same, showed females displaying the same visual cues were found by researchers, not to have any young in the pouch or any enlarged teats. These events were also simultaneously confirmed by an animal in captivity in Victoria, showing the same signs of weight gaining and patch augmentation even without any contact with a male of the species.
Image: Resident Female displaying enlarged pouch in September 2016
The joint co-operation between the AQC/QPWS Road closure during May to August in 2017, had AQC team comprising of Alberto Vale AQC and researcher aid Paige Donnelly NTU UK gathered significant data about the colony. (Paige Donnelly full Honours research papers “ Assessing an Innovative Camera Trapping Technique to Monitor Changes in Pouch Appearance for Indications of the Reproductive Status of Northern Spotted-tailed Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus gracilis) will be available upon publication).
It was found that 2 new females where now in the area along with the same male and female found during the 2016 breeding season. The AQC team established that those new females were likely to be the result of the same successful breeding of the pre-existing STQ's specimens in 2016. There was a fifth animal captured by AQC motion sensor cameras that did match a previous recorded spots pattern in April 2017 and again recorded during the 4 months of road closure in July. AQC cannot further comment on its further roaming activity and/or the genre.
During the 4 months of the approved road closure, 12 motion sensor cameras were dispersed with no bait lures to the fully extent of the ridge of the Kauri Ck Rd at 500 m intervals (rather than the proposed 1000 m intervals) and -+ 40 m from road side. All cameras except one (baited) camera west of the ridge captured the presence of ST quolls with all matched to current records.
The AQC determined that the favoured roaming area for all these existing quolls where at the middle of the 4 km ridge. The AQC deployed a camera system QuollC developed and proprietary of WildCAM Australia®. This automated system utilises similar motion sensor camera techniques developed purposely to be non invasive by Alberto Vale of WildCAM Australia® and Co-founder of the AQC, allowing regulated close focus cameras to inspect and video-graph the extended torso of the animals naturally and voluntary, thus revealing not only their genre as well as any different stages of pouch development.
The camera system was then moved every three weeks to an immediate transected area, so the animals enjoyed contrived enrichment activities searching for the lure and be able to expose their torsos as well, as making the animals not too familiar with the same camera environs.
Bait deployed was Lenard's chicken wings x 2 weighing -+ 214 g and due to the ravished nature of the quolls during the mating season AQC soon had to increase the lure to a Lenard's chicken frame -+ 377 g every 4 days. Baiting equated to be an average of 94.25 g per present animal, well bellow the calculated body weight consumption of 30% per day or a mean average of 280g of food per day, per animal.
During the monitoring period, several other animals were caught on the QuollC lured cameras, including Red-legged pademelons, Muski-rat Kangaroos, Giant white-tailed rats, bush rats, brush turkeys and Grey headed Robins. It was also noted the lack of presence of the Atherton Antechinus with only one being sighted in 5
August. The sighting was 84 m from the roadside at a non baited camera which was able to record the same animal twice including already camera sampled quolls. •
The AQC can now in a plausible certainty, attest by the numerous video evidence, that all females caught on camera at the Kauri Ck Rd colony during the period between May to August 2017, are now with den young. This has been identified by obtaining pouch excerpt video stills with enlarged teats for suckling. The result of the road closure allowed AQC to monitor the area with much less and significant road usage impact, including the absent noise from motorised road users especially trail bikes, thus ensuring a successful test of the “modified” camera trapping techniques. This new way has enabled AQC to accurately diagnose pregnancies in females, identify stages of reproductive cycles (e.g. in oestrus), easily determine quoll gender and identify individuals by their spotty fur patterns, therefore providing valuable non invasive information on the number of individuals, sex ratio and number of pregnant females. In August and in the course of this new “modified” camera trapping technique, Alberto Vale developed a newer version of QuollC MKII, an entirely different camera and bait set up, now utilising economical motion sensor cameras, not requiring any field modifications and still able to diagnose successfully all the above mentioned.
Road closure also allowed AQC the ability of record arboreal prey activity during spotlight showing a good array of diversity and the increase of animals in the road side especially during the daylight hours.
QuollC camera system was able to record successfully different pouch stages of pregnancy evident until the end of August 2017 during that time it also recorded imagery of mother and a daughter interaction at one QuollC location, revealing again the non-antagonist behaviour between mother and adult daughter and both adult female siblings, where the same cannot be said during repetitive video proof, when male meets with females.
Now with 3 pregnant females and the hopeful success raising of their young, the AQC team estimates that at least between 6 to 9 new young will now enter the success story of this once vanishing colony. AQC’s new “Species Recovery Unit” will progress further monitoring during October to January and will then reveal the full result of their successful breeding and raising their young and hence provide a more complete report to meet the original requirements of the QPWS.
PROPOSED SPECIES RECOVERY MANAGEMENT ACTIONS •
AQC hopes that future periodic road closures are again granted and enforced in 2018 and thereafter during a revised period of July to September. This will help to ensure this colony has a relaxing and safe environment during their breeding season until such times that we notice the gradual increase in numbers of the species and hopefully their dispersal to Mt Edith Rd and the Varch Trail areas, where STQ's were once found but haven’t for a decade. 6
The current support that QPWS is showing with the new AQC “Species Recovery Unit” proposal to the revival of the wildlife/quoll corridor between Mt Bartle Frere, Mt Bellenden Ker and the Lamb Range, will hopefully ensure the visitation of other roaming males and ensure quoll genetics are diversified and inbreeding will not occur, or is minimised with this current and probably only male present in the Kauri Ck Rd colony.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This project was undertaken largely by Alberto Vale of the AQC with the assistance of Paige Donnelly from Nottingham Trent University in the UK. The project also received support in the field from several people, including Luke Jackson, Emmaline Hardy and QPWS park ranger Roger James. The AQC would like to acknowledge and thank these people for their participation and assistance with this project. Without the help of members and volunteers, our work would be much harder – so we are grateful for your support.
Female Pouch Stages using QuollC Camera System - Monitoring Oestrous
Determine Quoll Gender and identify individuals by their spotty fur pattern
This enduring and logistic four month work survey was made possible through a personal voluntary philanthropic donation by:
INTERIM CLOSURE OF KAURI CREEK ROAD TO ESTABLISH ROAD USAGE IMPACTS DURING THE BREEDING CYCLE OF THE NORTHERN SPOTTED-TAILED QUOLL (DASY...
Published on Jan 9, 2018
INTERIM CLOSURE OF KAURI CREEK ROAD TO ESTABLISH ROAD USAGE IMPACTS DURING THE BREEDING CYCLE OF THE NORTHERN SPOTTED-TAILED QUOLL (DASY...