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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Quoll disease fears

The Mercury: Quoll disease fears [20nov05]

HE sighting of a quoll with a huge growth on its shoulder has sparked fears of a link to the cancer ravaging the Tasmanian devils.

But authorities, keen to trap the quoll for testing, say it the growth is most likely an abscess.

The spotted-tail quoll was photographed by Sue and Craig Walker, who saw the deformed animal on the veranda of their Meander home.

"He was raiding the dog's dish," Sue Walker said. "It had a cyst or something growing on the shoulder."

Mrs Walker, a nurse, said she managed to touch the cyst and it felt like a "jelly-filled lump".

It didn't appear distressed but the lump was big enough to affect its gait," she said.

Mr Walker, who works at the local sawmill, took photographs of the animal and the growth.

The family sent the photographs to the Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment.

"They came and trapped but the quoll had disappeared," Mrs Walker said. "Just in the last couple of weeks it re-appeared, the lump hadn't changed but the quoll had lost a bit of condition."

The spotted-tail quoll, a carnivorous marsupial, is a distant relative of the Tasmanian devil.

Tens of thousands of devils are believed to have died in the past 10 years with a rare, new condition, Devil Facial Tumour Disease.

The DFTD cancer is thought to be passed from devil to devil when they bite each other while fighting or mating.

Diseased devils appear to have little, if any, resistance against the invading cancer cell.

Authorities have been keeping tabs on quoll populations because of their relatively close genetic relationship with devils.

The Walkers want to know if the lump is linked to DFTD and if not, what it is.

Weegena resident John Hayward said he had observed quolls with strange growths.

Mr Hayward was concerned the quolls he had seen were suffering from the same problem as the photographed animal.

"I've had an eastern quoll and a spotted-tail who both died with it, if not from it," Mr Hayward said.

Nature Conservation Branch wildlife officer Nick Mooney said it was common for spotted-tail quolls to have injuries because they were ferocious predators.

Mr Mooney said quolls were often trapped while monitoring devils.

He caught one quoll which had a huge ulcer on the side of its head and sent the animal to Mt Pleasant laboratories.

The ulcer was caused by a tooth from another quoll being embedded in the animal's head.

"I got another dead quoll and it had a swollen face but the post mortem showed it had a broken jaw," Mr Mooney said.

"These guys are street-fighters, they live a hard life."

Mr Mooney said there were regular reports from people who had seen quolls with lumps.

"But so far it's nothing worrying, just day-to-day stuff," he said.

A DPIWE spokesman said attempts to trap the photographed quoll had failed.

"It looks like an abscess," the spokesman said. "But if it's back, we'd like to try and trap it and have a look."

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