The next chapter of Taronga Zoo’s involvement in helping save the Tasmanian Devilis here. We’ve just opened a state-of-the-art centre to breed Tasmanian Devils and show zoo visitors the plight of this endangered species.
The new Tasmanian Devil Conservation Centre is located next to Backyard to Bush’s urban house in the eastern part of the Zoo. From the outside the exhibit, it looks like the historic ‘Big Cat’ quarantine centre has just been given a facelift, but when you walk through the wooden doors you are immediately transported to a country road setting where devils have thrived by cleaning up road kill while risking death from passing cars.
This area takes visitors into a rural setting. A road stretches from the public area into the enclosure where an artificial kangaroo carcass lies across the highway. During the daily Keeper Talks at 11.30am meat is attached to the feeding feature that looks so real that you’ll be looking twice to assure yourself that the devils aren’t tearing into a real animal’s intestines. It’s amazing to watch their big canine teeth tear the flesh.
This landscape showcases how highways are a link to the rapid demise of the Tasmanian Devil helping to spread a contagious cancer, called the Devil Facial Tumour Disease, has already wiped out 60% of the endemic Tasmanian population. Without conservation action the world’s largest living marsupial carnivore may become extinct within 25 years.
Highways across Tasmania act as corridors that spread the disease. Road kill provides regular opportunities for devils to eat in groups, spreading the contagious cancer as they bite and instinctively squabble over food. Devils die within 12 months of contracting the cancer.
While there is no cure yet, Taronga and Taronga Western Plains Zoos have joined with 13 other wildlife agencies to breed 1,500 disease free devils to form an insurance population.
Taronga’s new centre is part of the Zoos’ involvement to breed a disease-free and genetically viable population in case they do become extinct in the wild. Just behind the countryside mural are four off-display breeding areas where the Keepers are currently introducing the devils for the next breeding cycle.
Two joeys, which were born last year to the conservation breeding program, have settled well to their new home. They’ve already been warming on their heated rock during the cold winter mornings and wading through the pond to scavenge food during meat scatter feeds. Keepers have also noticed that they’ve been making use of their outdoor den, furnishing it with plants and roots to create a soft and warm outdoor nest.
In this section there also is an outdoor research ‘museum’ where real devil skeletons are on display. Looking at their sturdy stature and powerful jaws, it’s not surprising that devils can bite right through bone.
In the next display a few paces from the road scene, is a Tasmanian rainforest with a special den area. Non-reflective glass and special lighting allows visitors to glimpse the devils taking a rest nestled amongst their natural fern bedding.
Visitors then enter the devils’ natural habitat display on a Tasmanian national park-style boardwalk. Glass balustrades bring visitors close to a stimulated rainforest made up over 30 plants and trees and a pebble creek. This landscape illustrates how devils in a natural habitat come into contact less frequently, reducing the rate at which the facial cancer spreads throughout populations.
Visitors will be given the opportunity to get involved and contribute to the Zoos’ 'Save the Devil Program' so that this fascinating species doesn’t face the same end as the Tasmanian Tiger.