Rio Tinto’s bauxite mining staff have discovered a rare quoll population at its operations located around Weipa on the Cape York Peninsula.
A total of 24 endangered northern quolls have been counted on a 3500ha block of Rio’s mining lease which covers 3860 square kilometres, news.com.au reports.
A significant proportion of the northern quoll species has been wiped out by cane toads.
Back in 2011 while preparing an environmental impact statement for Rio’s $1.4 billion South of Embley project, located about 50 kilometres away, a new species of crab and a shrimp not previously recorded in Australia was identified.
The discoveries prompted calls from conservationists to stop the project.
But in May this year it was given the go ahead, with Rio saying it would protect the area.
After more than a year of delays, Rio Tinto was granted approval by the then Federal Environmental Minister Tony Burke to proceed with the South of Embley project, but must meet strict conditions aimed at protecting marine wildlife and the Great Barrier Reef.
The company has hired experts to survey its mining lease and map out the quoll population which is about 10 kilometres from its mining operations.
"Over the next few weeks, our environmental specialists will work with the experts to conduct field surveys both inside and outside our lease boundary," Weipa general manager operations Gareth Manderson said.
"The surveys will help ensure appropriate environmental management measures are developed.”
He explained there is no mining activity where the quolls were found.
The quoll habitat does contain bauxite ore but the company has not made a decision to mine it yet.
Currently Rio operates on 200 metre buffer zones in ecologically sensitive areas.
"Our mining operations and the Cape's flora and fauna have coexisted for nearly 50 years," Manderson said.