Work to bring cane-toad smart northern quolls back to Kakadu’s Mary River district will take a major step forward this week when quolls are collected on Astell Island off the north-east Arnhem Land coast.

A team from the Territory Wildlife Park (TWP) is working with the Marthakal Rangers from Galiwin’ku, the Dhimurru Rangers from Nhulunbuy and scientists to collect up to 100 northern quolls from Saturday 7 November 2015.

Ranger Bruce Lirrwa with a northern quoll on Astell Island (Photo: John Woinarski)

Ranger Bruce Lirrwa with a northern quoll on Astell Island (Photo: John Woinarski)

TWP will then train the quolls to become cane-toad smart before releasing them into Kakadu later next year.

This cane toad would be the final meal for this northern quoll if it were to ingest the toad's poison. Source: he Stop the Toad Foundation

This cane toad would be the final meal for this northern quoll if it were to ingest the toad’s poison. Source: Stop the Toad Foundation

Scientists from the Flora and Fauna Division of the Northern Territory Department of Land Resource Management are also working with Kakadu rangers to assess the suitability of the release site in Kakadu, and will assist with the long term monitoring of the trained quolls.

Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt said the Australian Government had invested $200,000 in the project, on the advice of Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews.

“This weekend’s action represents real progress to deliver on the Kakadu Threatened Species Strategy we announced late last year,” Minister Hunt said.

“The Australian Government has committed $750,000 to kick-start the Kakadu Threatened Species Strategy, with cane-toad smart quolls being one of the major projects”

“The strategy is a major change in Kakadu’s approach to managing threatened species. It’s proactive, practical action with a focus on on-ground work to conserve native species while reducing threats.

“We know the cane-toad smart programme works, with each generation now learning from the next. This expansion of the programme is building on highly successful research conducted in Kakadu since 2010.”

Northern quoll Northern Quoll release into Kakadu National Park 2012. Source: Territory Wildlife Park

An initial northern quoll release into Kakadu National Park 2012. Source: Territory Wildlife Park

Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews said “my role is to marshal expertise and deploy resources where they are most needed.”

“I am thrilled this project is progressing to the point where we might see more cane-toad smart quolls return to Kakadu by 2016. I’m also thrilled that the many partners on this project, including Parks Australia, researchers like Dr Jonathan Webb and the Territory Wildlife Park – have worked together so quickly and collaboratively to bring it to reality.”

Northern Territory Minister for Parks and Wildlife, Bess Price, said cane toads are becoming an ever increasing threat to our wildlife including the precious northern quoll.

“Our vigilance is needed at every level to combat their movement into the Territory,” Ms Price said.

“I fully support this innovative program and applaud the hard work and dedication of our Territory Wildlife Park team.”

Territory Wildlife Park curator Dion Wedd will head to Astell Island tomorrow morning as part of a team tasked with finding suitable quolls to take back.

Northern Territory A northern quoll destined for great things. Source: Northern Territory Department of Land Resource Management

A northern quoll destined for great things. Source: Northern Territory Department of Land Resource Management

“Northern quolls pounce on anything that moves and it’s through this natural instinct that their wild populations have taken a hit since cane toads first came to the Territory,” Mr Wedd said.

A group of 45 northern quolls were moved to Astell Island in early 2003 as part of the Island Ark project, with a further 19 northern quolls moved to nearby Pobassoo Island – there are now thousands of northern quolls on these two islands, which are free of cane toads”

One of the recently trapped northern quolls that will be habituated to avoid cane toads. Source: Northern Territory Department of Land and Resource Management

One of the recently trapped northern quolls that will be habituated to avoid cane toads. Source: Northern Territory Department of Land Resource Management

The training will be conducted by Territory Wildlife Park staff and scientists from the University of Technology in Sydney, the University of Melbourne and Kakadu National Park rangers, with about half of the successfully trained northern quolls going to the Mary River region in the southern section of Kakadu National Park, in the hope they’re able to establish a wild population.

Sam Deegan and orphaned 'Djili' in Kakadu National Park in 2013. Northern quolls will need active management into the future if they are to survive the threat of cane toads. Source: Parks Australia

Sam Deegan and orphaned ‘Djili’ in Kakadu National Park in 2013. Northern quolls will need active management into the future if they are to survive the threat of cane toads. Source: Parks Australia

“Research has shown that by exposing northern quolls to food mixed with the skin of toads and a nausea inducing chemical, they quickly learn to avoid such foods and therefore they learn to avoid cane toads,” Mr Wedd said.

“As the female northern quolls are very nurturing and protective of their young, they teach their young to avoid cane toads and this lesson is passed down to future generations.”

The northern quoll is Australia's smallest species of quoll

The northern quoll is Australia’s smallest species of quoll. Source: Parks Australia