Fight to save fluffy, vulnerable predator

·2-min read

With their fluffy pointed ears, pink noses and snow white spots, the endangered chuditch are the epitome of cute.

But the native marsupials, also known as western quolls, are considered high-order predators in the Australian ecosystem, naturally controlling populations of other species and cleaning up the bush.

Chuditch, a Noongar name thought to have come from the animal's sharp cry, are considered vulnerable nationally and are extinct in NSW, having previously roamed across 70 per cent of the country.

Their precarious status has prompted Taronga Western Plains Zoo's conservation team to rehome four females and four males from Western Australia and South Australia in specialised breeding enclosures at Dubbo.

Staff hope to release the offspring into rewilding sites, fenced areas in national parks free from threats like foxes and feral cats, as early as next year.

"We want to do a series of annual releases at a particular site to make sure that population establishes and becomes self-sustaining," Taronga Conservation Society program manager Andrew Elphinstone told AAP.

"It's going to take a while to change the threat status, but we've started that journey and I'm really looking forward to turning it around."

Genetic samples will help pair up the chuditch to ensure they create a robust population.

For now, the animals live on a 100-hectare woodland sanctuary at the zoo, safe from predators.

The zoo's vets have checked the animals' health, and there could be as many as 24 joeys by September, the end of their breeding season.

Zookeepers will monitor the group through thermal cameras, but will largely leave the nocturnal Chuditch to it.

"It's very naturalistic and they're in really large enclosures," Mr Elphinstone said.

"They are managed in a very hands-off way to maintain all their natural behaviour.

"They might only interact with a human a handful of times a year."

The conservation effort for the chuditch, which is related to the Tasmanian devil, follows similar programs to protect the plains-wanderer and regent honeyeater birds and the greater bilby.

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