Ambassador Devils for Overseas Zoos
A pilot program which will see Tasmanian devils placed in select overseas zoos was announced by the Minister for Parks, Environment and Heritage, Brian Wightman on Sunday 23 June. The 'Ambassador Devils' initiative will raise awareness of the plight of Tasmanian devils (caused by the Devil Facial Tumour Disease) on a world stage and contribute directly to conservation of the endangered species in Tasmania.
The Minister approved a ‘world best practice’ framework for the initiative which specifies strict conditions for overseas zoos and a significant return benefit to devil conservation activities within Australia. He explained that the initiative was only possible now that an insurance population of Tasmanian devils had been established within Australia, providing confidence that the species will not become extinct.
“To date, we have well over 500 healthy Tasmanian devils housed in zoos and wildlife parks throughout Australia, as well as Devil Islands and captive management centres run by the Program like this at Cressy,” said Mr Wightman.
“We’ve been so successful, in fact, that there is now also a need to care for animals that are no longer actively participating in the insurance population, or that are genetically over-represented in it.
“In this regard, I acknowledge the fantastic support given by the Zoo and Aquarium Association of Australia and the participating zoos and wildlife parks, including the assistance of individual zoos here in Tasmania.
"The Zoo and Aquarium Association and its members provide a significant amount of support to the Program in the maintenance of the insurance population, at an estimated cost of over $2.7 million per year.
“The Ambassador Devils initiative will relieve some of this burden which is of great importance given our need to secure long-term support for the insurance population and the extended life of the conservation program.
“The framework will ensure that the animals selected for overseas placement are no longer essential for breeding as part of the insurance population, and that only prominent zoos with a proven commitment to conservation will be considered.
“These placements will benefit devil conservation, not only by providing space and husbandry for these surplus devils, but they will promote significant public interest and awareness for conservation of the species outside Australia.
“The zoos will be selected on the basis of the quality of husbandry and the facilities they can provide, together with the likely level of public exposure the devils will receive.
Mr Wightman explained that the initiative would be undertaken as a pilot project over the following year, involving a limited number of high profile zoos - up to three in New Zealand and two zoos in the United States of America - and a total of about 20 devils to begin with. Following a successful evaluation, the initiative could be extended in coming years to involve up to ten zoos in North America and Europe, three in New Zealand and two in Japan.