Four feisty Tasmanian Devil joeys will have a general health check and paternity tests today at Taronga Zoo to determine the sire of the litter.
The latest youngsters born to mother, ‘Martha’, are another breeding success for Taronga which is involved in a national effort to create an insurance population of devils in zoos to safeguard against the complete collapse of this endangered species in the wild.
Keeper, Lisa Cavanagh, said: ”Breeding the devils is our main priority. By monitoring Martha very closely, we know when she will be receptive to a male’s advances so we introduced her to two of our males, ‘Tex’ and ‘Theo’, in the hope that a positive mating would take place. Our efforts, and that of one of the breeding couple was rewarded with three male and one female joeys. ”
“We have our suspicions that ‘Theo’ is the father of the joeys. We saw him and Martha in the act, but the paternity test is the only way to be certain.”
Taronga’s Australian Mammals Keepers and veterinarians will give the joeys a general health exam now they are six months old and take a sample of tissue which will be analysed at Sydney University to determine whether ‘Tex’ or ‘Theo’ has fathered the litter.
Last year, Taronga and Taronga Western Plains Zoos welcomed 13 joeys into the national breeding program. This year the combined program has produced eight joeys.
“Martha produced young with ‘Tex’ last year, so this time round we would prefer ‘Theo’ to be the father as this will introduce another bloodline into the program, ensuring genetic diversity amongst the insurance population.”
With Tasmanian Devils under threat from extinction due to a contagious cancer which causes fatal facial tumours, the birth of the four joeys is encouraging for the species and for the network of mainland zoos managing insurance populations of the iconic animals.
Sadly, the situation for wild Tasmanian Devils is not promising, with the species recently listed as endangered. Field monitoring has shown a 60 percent fall in the population of devils since the disease emerged in 1996. After getting the disease, devils generally do not live longer than six months.
The joeys will shortly be transferred to Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo to a purpose-built breeding facility. It is planned that when they are sexually mature at approximately two years of age, they will contribute to the survival of their species by producing their own young.
Both Zoos, along with 13 other mainland zoos and wildlife parks are committed to helping the Tasmanian Devil. Plans are already in place for the 2010 breeding cycle and a new exhibit is under construction at Taronga Zoo which is expected to open in mid-2010.
The exhibit will allow visitors the opportunity to experience the natural forest habitat of the Tasmanian Devil and hear the distinctive snarls and growls of the animals whilst getting a peak at their nocturnal activities via TV screens which will show what the devils get up to in their dens.
The exhibit will also house specialised breeding facilities for devils which are part of Taronga’s contribution to the national breeding program which aims to create a disease-free population of 500 Tasmanian Devils.