Trowunna devils join Insurance Population
It was announced in August 2011 that the Tasmanian devils at Trowunna Wildlife Park have been incorporated into the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program’s Insurance Population.
This process was helped along by a $105,000 grant to build a secure, double-fenced area within the northern-Tasmanian facility. The grant is part of the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Grants scheme that was established by the Program in 2009, and is administered by the Zoo Aquarium Association’s Wildlife Conservation Fund.
Androo Kelly, the owner/operator at Trowunna, said the incorporation of the park’s devils into the Insurance Population reflected their long-standing commitment to the species.
“We’ve been breeding devils since 1985 under studbook conditions,” he said. “This year we have achieved 11th generation captive-bred devils, which is rare for any breeding program. Trowunna is recognised internationally as a heritage population of devils – unique and vital for this species.
“An added bonus is that many of our devils originated in the east of the state. The eastern devils are slightly different genetically to the western devils, which currently make up a large percentage of the Insurance Population.”
Another feature of the Trowunna devil population is that Androo has successfully bred a homozygous AC5 (Ancestral Chromosome 5) devil. This is something the Program has not seen before.
Why is this AC5 animal important? It has the same chromosomes as its ancestors had about 13,000 years ago, before an evolutionary change in devils occurred (in particular, with the AC5 becoming PiC5, which is what nearly all modern devils have).
“This AC5 animal is like a throwback to what devils were like thousands of years ago,” Androo said. “The AC5 animals were less susceptible to cancers than the species is today.
“We’ve been working closely with Anne-Maree Pearse (from the State Government’s Mt Pleasant Animal Health Laboratory) and she is researching when and why devils became susceptible to cancers like the Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD).”
In 2006 two Trowunna devils were sent to Denmark by the Tasmanian Government to celebrate the birth of Prince Christian, the son of Crown Prince Frederick and Tasmanian-born Crown Princess Mary. Several months later, a case of DFTD was discovered within the Trowunna population.
“This discovery really knocked everyone involved with Trowunna,” Androo said.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on the natural setting of our park and we were doing a lot of rehabilitation work too. Still, it’s a mystery how the disease got into the park.
“Today, five years down the track, we’ve managed DFTD out of the population. So this is a good-news story. Our devils are now officially in the Insurance Population, and they will provide their key genetic benefits to the wider Insurance Population.”
Photograph on left is of Androo Kelly, owner/operator Trowunna Wildlife Park with a Tasmanian devil.