Photo: Numbers of northern quolls have dropped partly due to the threat of cane toads. (ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)
An experimental technique that trains native animals not to eat cane toads is being trialled on an island off the Northern Territory coast.Thirty-five northern quolls have been taken to Indian Island, 41 kilometres west of Darwin to test the theory.
Cane toads are partly responsible for the northern quoll being placed on the endangered species list.
University of Melbourne PhD candidate Ella Kelly said the quolls hailed from Queensland, the NT, and those bred from parents from the two areas.
Photo: The little critters have been fed small pieces of cane toad meat as part of the trial. (ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)
The cane toad has been in Queensland for more than 70 years, but less than half that time in the Territory.
As a result, Queensland quolls have better adapted to the pest, Ms Kelly said.
"Queensland quolls are toad-smart, which means they avoid cane toads as a prey item," she said.
"We're hoping that that these toad-smart quolls can help us improve the management of these threatened populations in the NT and Western Australia."
Photo: It's hoped the Territory quolls will adapt to pests like their Queensland cousins. (ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)
Ben Phillips from the University of Melbourne said the introduced quolls have also been trained to avoid cane toads by being fed small pieces of toad laced with a chemical that makes them sick.
"It's exactly the same response as when people drink too much alcohol and feel really sick; they will often not be able to stand the smell of that particular drink anymore," Dr Phillips said.It is hoped the introduced quolls will breed and train their young not to eat the toads.
Indian Island was selected because it is infested with the poisonous pest, and the project is being run with the help of the Aboriginal Kenbi Rangers.
Ranger John "Mango" Moreen said he had seen the cane toad population explode on the island in recent years.
Photo: The experiment is being run with the help of Aboriginal Kenbi rangers. (ABC News: Steven Schubert)
"The first time I came out here five, six, seven years ago, there was no cane toad on this island," he said.
"When this mob came out here ... there were cane toads everywhere."Mr Moreen said he was confident the quoll training would work: "It will, they'll survive on this island."
Ms Kelly said if it does, it could potentially be adapted to suit other species.