Disease suppression winds down
Over the last year the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program has continued to invest in providing a field presence and in improving the effectiveness of trapping techniques in the disease suppression project on the Forestier Peninsula. A detailed review of disease suppression was completed in November 2010.
The aim of the review was to evaluate the outcomes of disease suppression on the peninsula against the original scientific and conservation targets of the project. The review also considered future management options, relevant decision-making benchmarks, stopping points and the benefits of different management strategies in the context of the Program's conservation objectives.
In considering future options we have to take a whole-of-Program perspective. The investment to date in disease suppression on the Forestier Peninsula has been substantial. The outcome in terms of population decline is unclear and the benefits derived from disease suppression are difficult to evaluate.
That is not to say that the Program has not gained valuable information from the project. This data will inform ongoing strategies for management of wild populations of Tasmanian devils.
The knowledge we have gained from the work on the Forestier Peninsula and long term monitoring suggests that it is unlikely we could recover a severely depleted population through disease suppression alone. The review indicates that this management action does result in different population outcomes. However, it is difficult to quantify its overall conservation benefit for the species.
Ongoing monitoring and estimates of population size up to July 2010 indicate the population has continued to decline. Any potential benefit to ecosystem function is likely to have diminished with the continuing decline in devil numbers on the peninsula.
Disease suppression requires the commitment of significant Program resources in terms of time, staff and money in what, in reality, is a relatively limited range of the devil's territory. At the end of the day we need to think about return on investment for the overall conservation of the species.
In short, the cost of maintaining disease suppression on the Forestier Peninsula is significant and the benefits of this action are limited. Ultimately it is on this basis that the Steering Committee has recommended that the disease suppression activity on the Forestier Peninsula be brought to an end.
A final report, detailing the disease suppression project and the rationale for its cessation, is being prepared for publication.
Where to from here?
There are a number of knowledge gaps, relating to the latent period of Devil Facial Tumour Disease as well as the transmission profile of individuals, which continue to present a challenge to the success of any disease suppression project. The population of devils on the Forestier Peninsula may offer opportunities to address some of these key questions and we will need to evaluate this over the coming months.
Thank you to the owners of 'Bangor', Matt and Vanessa Dunbabin and their family, who have given unstinting support to the Program over the six years of the disease suppression project.