Save the Tasmanian Devil

Saving the Tasmanian Devil

A Tasmanian Devils with advanced symptoms of the DFTD. This image was published in a Public Library of Science journal: To Lose Both Would Look Like Carelessness: Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease. McCallum H, Jones M, PLoS Biology Vol. 4/10/2006, e342. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0040342. It is published here under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 license.

The Devastation

Tasmanian Devils are endangered in their native Tasmania. Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) has devastated the wild population. The Devil is now listed as Endangered by Federal and State governments. It is also on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). In short, the species is vulnerable to extinction.

DFTD, characterised by cancers around the mouth and head, was first observed in 1996. The positioning of the tumours restricts a Devil’s ability to eat. A few months after the tumours become visible, infected Devils usually starve to a slow and painful death.

DFTD is present across more than 80% of Tasmania. In fact, in some areas, the wild population of Devils has declined by up to 95%. That means the population has fallen from 250 000 in 1996, to an estimated 15 000 in 2011.

Little is known about DFTD, other than the fact that it spreads like a contagious disease. It appears to pass from one Devil to another when saliva is exchanged while biting.

At present, there is no cure for the disease and no way of stopping it devastating the native stocks in Tasmania.

The Solution

At least for now, the only way to save Tasmanian Devils is through captive breeding of quarantined “insurance” populations. Since April 2010, one such population has existed at Ranger Red’s Zoo & Conservation Park (previously Peel Zoo), Western Australia.

Originally Peel Zoo was home to 4 Tasmanian Devils, 1 male and 3 females. However, the population peaked at 19, before some animals were supplied to other Zoos. Such phenomenal success places Peel Zoo at the forefront of Devil breeding in Australia.

According to the official Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, “it costs around $7,000 to house one devil for one year at a zoo.” 

Ranger Red’s Zoo & Conservation Park currently holds two male Tasmanian Devil’s, Tank and Claws. We hope to expand our resident Devils and once again hold an active part in saving the Tasmanian Devil from extinction by our participation in the Zoo & Aquarium Association (ZAA) breeding program.