International grant boost to Tasmanian devil monitoring
An international partnership between the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program (STDP), the Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia (ZAA) and Toledo Zoo from the USA, will provide a welcome boost to the monitoring of the endangered Tasmanian devil in the wild.
Under the agreement, the Toledo Zoo has provided a five-year grant of $100,000 per year for a monitoring program to assess the status of the devil in the Tasmanian landscape, and help develop projects that will ensure the long term recovery of the species.
The Toledo Zoo will raise this money through advocacy for the Tasmanian devil in the United States. The grant will fund a monitoring program overseen by Wildlife Biologist Dr. Samantha Fox who has been appointed as an Adjunct to the Toledo Zoo.
“The five-year monitoring program is designed to answer questions such as whether devils are persisting at low levels, going locally extinct or recovering in the presence of disease in the local landscape,” Dr. Fox said.
“The aim of the monitoring program is to examine the plight of the Tasmanian devil in the wild and assess the evolution of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) and the devil. The STDP’s main goal is to maintain an enduring and ecologically functional population of Tasmanian devils in the wild.”
The Program seeks to achieve this goal by maintaining populations in the wild, maintaining the genetic diversity of the populations and managing the ecological impacts of a reduced devil population over its natural range.In order to achieve these objectives, there is a need to understand the status of wild populations and this grant will enable monitoring to help better understand where things are at.
Each of the scenarios (persisting at low sizes, going locally extinct or recovering in the presence of disease) has a fundamental impact on the optimal strategy that should be adopted to address DFTD.
There is anecdotal evidence from North-east Tasmania where the disease originated more than 20 years ago that devil populations may be increasing and this annual monitoring program is specifically designed to assess this.
Dr. Fox said as part of the monitoring program, ten (10) long-term monitoring sites have been selected. "Sites located on the eastern side of Tasmania have had disease present for more than 20 years while other sites have only had diseases present for a short period of time. Two of the sites are the subject of long term monitoring conducted by the University of Tasmania,” Dr. Fox said.
“For some of these sites, there is population data for both pre-disease and since the arrival of the disease.”
Together with their stakeholder partners, the STDP has been working to re-enforce wild populations at Narawntapu National Park with the release of 20 devils in September 2015. The Program also released 39 devils into the wild on the Forestier Peninsula in mid-November.
These steps assist in increasing the genetic diversity of suppressed wild populations as well as directly increasing numbers – thereby enforcing the ecosystem function of devils in the wild. This will help to maintain viable and resilient devil populations in the wild.
It is all part of the Wild Devil Recovery project that includes detailed assessment of devil populations in the wild and the investigations of strategies to rebuild disease affected populations.