AN endangered animal not seen in the Grampians for more than 140 years has been spotted.
A remote digital camera set up to film brush-tailed rock wallabies captured a tiger quoll, last seen in the region in 1872 when the creature was considered by pastoralists to be a pest.
The footage caused Grampians National Park ranger in charge Dave Roberts to do a double take. And then pause for a closer look a third time.
His first impression was right. The animal that deftly navigated the narrow passage of the 15-metre-deep cave was indeed a tiger quoll.
"This was completely unexpected,'' he said. "In 18 months of monitoring, we've never come across anything that even looked like a native carnivore.''
To be certain he was looking at a wild tiger quoll, Mr Roberts called Halls Gap Zoo and animal collectors to confirm a captive quoll hadn't escaped.
The unexpected find fuels hope that where there is one quoll, there will be more. But more importantly, the tiger quoll's appearance in an area of national park that was severely burnt in 2006 suggests that the species is able to recolonise habitat after the devastating impact of fire.
"It was pretty much scorched earth through there after the fire,'' Mr Roberts said.
"So the fact that an animal is back there seven years after the fire means that there is some recolonisation happening from a population elsewhere.''
The existence of a tiger quoll also bodes well for the ecosystem, which needs to be robust enough to support the nocturnal, carnivorous creature at the top of the food chain.
Mr Roberts said that going by its size, the tiger quoll captured on film on Wednesday evening last week appeared to be a
healthy adult weighing about five kilograms.
Listed as endangered in Victoria, the tiger quoll is the mainland's equivalent to the Tasmanian devil, a top predator that keeps the ecosystem in check.
Until the tiger quoll was filmed last week, it was thought all native carnivores in the Grampians ecosystem had been lost. In their place are introduced foxes and cats.
"We have been undertaking extensive fire management, fox control and other conservation works for decades and this sighting adds to our knowledge and importance of our work to conserve these species," Mr Roberts said.
"Having a native predator in the system is a great sign that the park is supporting a healthy functioning ecosystem."
Parks Victoria's Grampians Ark fox control program manager Ben Holmes said he could not believe his eyes when the photos were sent through to the field crew.
"There is no mistaking the spotted body colour, which can only be a quoll," he said.
Parks Victoria will now refine camera monitoring techniques to hopefully build a better picture of how widespread the population is across the Grampians National Park, following several unconfirmed sightings over the years.
Parks Victoria chief executive Bill Jackson said it was an extremely exciting rediscovery after such a long time.
"It highlights the critical role parks play in conserving Victoria's unique biodiversity," he said.
"Victoria's parks conserve examples of more than 80 per cent of Victoria's plants and animals and this rediscovery confirms the Grampians National Park as a stronghold for biodiversity conservation."
Bridie Smith, The Age