A Campsite starring the enigmatic spotted-tail quoll has opened at the University of Wollongong’s Early Start Discovery Space.
The new experience takes visitors into a bushland setting where they can take on the role of researcher, camper, bushwalker or birder, and try to identify quolls and other animals through their scats, tracks and calls.
Nocturnal and elusive, most people know very little about spotted-tail quolls (also known as tiger quolls), even though they are mainland Australia's largest carnivorous marsupial and closely related to the now-extinct Tasmanian tiger.
The experience draws on the research of Dr Katarina Mikac from UOW’s School of Earth, Atmospheric and Life Sciences, and engages visitors in the importance of conservation.
The Campsite experience features photos and video from Dr Mikac’s research, as well as a camera station set-up with camera and lure (but no smelly quoll treats in the lure), with visitors challenged to identify the different species caught on camera.
It has a real (taxidermy) spotted-tail quoll, nicknamed “Quolly”, allowing visitors to see a real quoll up close.
The Campsite also has a large mural of an Illawarra bush scene featuring an array of native flora and fauna. Alongside it is a bird-spotting hide where the challenge is to identify the different birds and the sounds they make.
“It’s going to be a really authentic experience because it is actually what we do…….it is going to be a powerful experience,” Dr Mikac said.
Dr Mikac and her ‘Team Quoll’ colleagues, along with volunteer “citizen scientists”, have been working to track the location and numbers of tiger quolls in the Hunter, Illawarra and Shoalhaven, to help ensure the native marsupial’s long-term survival.
“The spotted-tail quoll is a ‘landscape species’ – they need a lot of space to live and move around in, so our research is also on a large scale,” she said.
“With a species like the spotted-tail quoll you need to look quite broadly over many kilometres because they can travel upwards of six kilometres a night.”
Dr Mikac said spotted-tail quolls have reddish-brown fur with white spots on their backs and tails (the eastern quoll has similar markings but no spots on its tail).
Adult females are about the size of a domestic cat, weighing about two kilograms.
Adult males are significantly larger, around 3.5 kilograms and the size of “a well-fed cat, which is why early settlers often confused them for cats”.
They are an endangered species nationally, and listed as vulnerable in NSW.
“They are a top predator, so an important animal in the ecosystem,” Dr Mikac said.
“When they're present in a particular patch of bush it means that ecosystem is healthy, that there's a range of different habitat types and a range of different food and so on.
“If you've got quolls then you know you're in healthy bush. And in the Illawarra escarpment, from here all the way down to Eden, we've got quolls.”
Discovery Space education and experience manager Martha Johnson said the Campsite was suitable for children from birth to 10-years-old, with different aspects and activities to appeal to different age groups.
Visitors to the Discovery Space can make a contribution towards protecting spotted-tail quolls by depositing cans and bottles in a specially marked bin, with the 10c refund going towards quoll research.