Taronga and Taronga Western Plains Zoos’ Tasmanian Devil breeding program has now produced 22 Devil joeys since late 2008.
Specially designed breeding units costing millions of dollars have been built at both zoos to national standards developed with the Tasmanian Government by the national Zoos and Aquariums Australia (ZAA) for all the 15 participating mainland zoos and wildlife parks.
Despite the costs involved, the Zoos have committed resources and funding to the program which aims to provide an insurance populating of disease-free Tasmanian Devils while scientists work to stop the fatal Devil facial Tumour Disease which has already killed many wild Tasmanian Devils.
Devils Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD)
DFTD was first discovered in 1996 and now affects Devils in 59 per cent of Tasmania. Field monitoring indicates a 60 per cent decline in the wild devil population since DFTD emergence.
DFTD is transmissible within the species, and is contracted when an infected Tasmanian Devil bites another - common behaviour among Devils especially during the mating season. Tumours appear within 3-12 months of a Devil contracting the disease.
It is commonly thought that the low genetic variation among Devil populations has contributed to the spread of DFTD. The lack of genetic variation in Devils means the cancer is not recognised as ‘foreign’ by the immune system of devils it is infecting.
As a unique form of transmissible cancer, DFTD is the subject of several studies in Tasmania and America. Researchers hope to gain a greater understanding of other forms of cancer by studying the unique qualities of the disease in Devils.
Devils for the insurance population are sourced from different areas of Tasmania to maximise genetic diversity for future captive breeding programs.
The reduction in the Devil population is likely to upset the predatory hierarchy and impact on the wider Tasmanian ecosystem by giving other carnivores, such as foxes more opportunities to prey on native animal species.
Australian Zoos and wildlife parks have come together to establish an insurance breeding program for Tasmanian Devils. The agencies include:
Australian Reptile Park, Australia Zoo, Ballarat Wildlife Park, Cleland Wildlife Park, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Dreamworld, Lone Pine Koala Park, Pearcedale Conservation Park, Perth Zoo, Symbio Wildlife Gardens, Taronga Western Plains Zoo , Taronga Zoo, Trowunna Wildlife Park, Sydney Wildlife World, Adelaide Zoo, Monarto Zoo and Healesville Sanctuary.
Conservation Management Programs for threatened species are coordinated by Zoos and Aquariums Australia (ZAA). ZAA has been a driving force in harnessing the collective capacities of its member zoos and wildlife parks in Australia to come together to try to save Tasmanian Devils.