What the devil? Pouched young brings joy to the Forestier Peninsula
Amid all the activity in the forests and farmland on the Forestier this autumn are signs that some of the newest residents are starting to settle down.
The most recent monitoring trip by Save the Tasmanian Devil staff found three females with pouched young among 11 devils trapped – taking the total number of confirmed pouch young to 11.
“That’s really encouraging news,” says Wildlife Biologist Bill Brown, who finished the latest trapping expedition at the end of April. “One of the key aims of releasing devils on this site has been to achieve reproduction in the wild, with the outcome of building a viable and sustainable population. This is a good step in the right direction.”
The Program has been trapping regularly since the first batch of 39 devils was translocated from wildlife parks and Free-Range Enclosures (FREs) to the privately-owned Bangor pastoral site on the Forestier in mid-November last year. A smaller number of juveniles were later released via soft-release pens in the same area in January 2016, with pen doors opened in February.
The program uses electronic equipment as well as manual trapping to keep an eye on the devils. Data from microchip-scanners on the soft-release pens has revealed a dozen devils have been regular visitors to the pens since the beginning of March.
“This tells us that the devils are showing signs of establishing home ranges away from the highway and that’s heartening,” Bill explains. “We were attempting to encourage them to continue to den in the pens.” The regular placement of food at six feed stations has also assisted some of the devils to ease into the transition from captive-to-wild living and is aimed at reducing their desire to disperse.
The latest trapping trip covered eight nights with 40 traps out each evening. Together with the March monitoring in the same area, it takes the total number of accounted for devils to 17.
“All of the animals caught were in good condition,” Bill says. “One three-year old male appeared to have developed a stiffening of the pelvis which was examined closely. Senior staff including a program vet watched a video taken as we released the devil and it was decided that it was natural ‘wear and tear’ and not immediately a welfare issue.” The condition of each animal is noted and will be checked as part of the next monitoring mission in June.
Prior to the wild release of the devils on the Forestier Peninsula, a program was undertaken to remove remaining devils from the area and put in place measures to reduce the risk of animals from outside the peninsula moving in. Although a number of barriers are in place to reduce the risk of non-release devils moving in to the site, it is recognized that incursions remain a possibility. In addition to the barriers, ongoing monitoring is undertaken to assist in detecting any incursions.
In mid-March the monitoring program detected two juvenile animals on the Forestier Peninsula which were not part of the release trial. The animals were regarded as low risk of carrying DFTD due to their young age and lack of fighting injuries – fighting involving infected animals is recognized as a possible disease transmission method. The two animals were captured and genetic samples were obtained to see if it is possible to identify their origin. The two animals were re-released outside the area.
The trapping and monitoring undertaken by the Program takes place on the Bangor property owned and run by the Dunbabin family - Matt and Vanessa and their children Henry, William and Amy. Bangor was developed as a farm in the 1830s and the Dunbabin’s have been working with the Save the Tasmanian Devil program for more than a decade.
“We think it is really important to be able to work with the scientists to help look after the devil and other native Tasmanian animals in this area,” Matt says. “It is something we both believe in and it is great to watch the research work in progress. It is wonderful to see the devils return to their home here at Bangor, completing the natural balance of the ecology here.”
Post-release last November, the Dunbabin’s spotted devils and heard several anecdotes about sightings near popular camping sites on the property. But six months on, Matt says they now don’t see devils often.
“We might catch a glimpse of some pottering about at night down near the Lagoon Bay end of the property but the sightings are few and far between, “Matt says. “We do find lots of scats around the place as we go about our work so that reminds us that they are out there amongst it all.”
The couple are keen to raise awareness about the devil’s plight and it appears their enthusiasm has been passed on to younger generations.
“Our children have been very involved in following the story of the devils release on Bangor,” Vanessa says. “All three were part of the main devil release last November. Our daughter Amy’s kindergarten class has a Tasmanian devil as their mascot and recently Amy was lucky enough to bring Tess the mascot home for the weekend so that really extended her excitement and curiosity about what’s going on.”
“We enjoy sharing the property with other people. Groups that come here are naturally interested in the Save the Tasmanian Devil project, and are excited to learn about the devil release and the research work being undertaken here.”
Tasmanian devils naturally disperse widely and in the first few weeks after both the adult and juvenile wild releases on the Forestier, the Program was hit hard by the high number of roadkilled animals. To date, 16 of the devils released on the Forestier have died after being hit by motor vehicles. Roadkill remains an unfortunate reality for the devil and each death reinforces the messages for all drivers to slow down and be aware of wildlife.
So while the Program remains busy engaging with community groups and key stakeholders and taking steps to develop options to reduce roadkill and other threats to Tasmanian devils, they are buoyed by the discovery of pouched young in the devils released into the wild on the Forestier Peninsula.
“We hoped that the majority of devils would remain around the release site, in the best habitat and the detection of pouched young is the soundest sign yet that the animals are looking like settling down,” says Save the Tasmanian Devil team Leader Dr Samantha Fox.
“One of the aims of the Wild Devil Recovery project is to develop techniques to successfully reintroduce devils into the wild. We now wait and watch as the babies grow and will continue to check on their progress as they start to explore away from their mother’s pouch in a den from about late July early August onwards,” Sam says.
Photos courtesy W.E. Brown