In 2011 a Monitoring Strategy was developed by the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program to streamline and co-ordinate monitoring activities to align with the Program business plan.
The Monitoring Strategy describes three different monitoring streams that support the Program, with the first stream, “Status of devil populations” covering the principle population monitoring activities. The questions to be answered with our population monitoring are:
Is there local extinction or recovery in a diseased population?
Are there devil populations that are demonstrating an atypical response to the disease?
What is the population status of devils across the state?
Where is the current disease front?
Following consultation with experts in NZ, our monitoring methodology has branched out to include remote sensing cameras as a major tool to be used in answering the questions above.
The region to be monitored is divided into a grid, and 30 squares are randomly chosen. A camera is then set up as close to the middle of each of the grid squares as is practicable.
The cameras are set up with meat as a lure to attract devils to the site. The cameras are left out for 20 days with the cameras being revisited on day 10 to refresh the bait, and check the batteries and memory cards.
Each of the camera-units has a motion sensor that, once movement is detected, can take a single photo or several photos in succession. If the photos are clear enough, we can gain a rough idea of age, and sometimes sex of the devil and often whether it has any indication of DFTD being present. As devils often have unique markings, we can also get an abundance estimate by identifying how many devils are visiting, and revisiting the cameras.
With the use of cameras we hope to set up a number of sites statewide that we can then re-visit over time to determine whether there is a change in age structure, DFTD prevalence or devil abundance in the area.
By monitoring devil population status across the State, we will also be able to identify any populations which may be behaving atypically to disease, or appear to be isolated from DFTD incursion, even though areas close by are known to be diseased.
We hope this new method of monitoring in the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program will result in a cost effective monitoring program which is capable of detecting population changes and trends at a regional level. The information obtained from this program will then be able to assist the Program in managing the impacts of DFTD on devil populations as well as planning for future actions such as landscape fencing and the reintroduction of devils into the Tasmanian landscape.
Find out more about remote camera monitoring.