The eastern quoll is probably best known for its connection to a famous relative, the Tasmanian tiger. The tiger went extinct in the 1930s, but conservationists are working to prevent this small, spotted marsupial from suffering the same fate.
Quolls went extinct on mainland Australia in the 1960s, but they still exist on Tasmania, an island off the southern coast of the country. In hopes of saving them, Aussie Ark and Global Wildlife Conservation released 17 captive-bred quolls into Australia's Booderee National Park as part of a conservation breeding and reintroduction program.
"This is an historic moment for this wonderfully charismatic species and an important step in our efforts to restore balance to Australia's ecosystems," said Tim Faulkner, Aussie Ark president, in a statement.
"While this release is a trial to see if the management practices we've developed for captive-bred quoll can, indeed, ensure their survival in the wild, we are hopeful that this is the start of an annual release program at Booderee that will ultimately help bring this species and others back from the brink."
There are four quoll species in Australia and all are classified as either endangered or critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The population has been nearly destroyed by habitat loss and the introduction of non-native species, such as foxes and cats.
According to Global Wildlife Conservation, Australia is home to the only living carnivorous marsupials on Earth, including the eastern quoll. The quoll eats insects and mice and rats, helping control pests that could otherwise upset the balance of the ecosystem. Australia has the highest rate of extinct mammals on the planet with at least 10% of its mammal species having gone extinct since European colonization.
With that sobering statistic in mind, the conservationists have more than the eastern quoll on their to-do list. Global Wildlife Conservation and Aussie Ark are also working to return Tasmanian devils, brush tail rock wallabies, rufous bettong, long-nosed potoroo, parma wallabies and southern brown bandicoots to the wild.