donate link to home page link to home page about the disease Save the Tasmanian devil. Devil Facial Tumouir Disease threatens the existence of this internationally-recognised icon. In some areas more than 90% of the Tasmanian devil population has been wiped out.

Wild Devil Recovery Project - Field Update 1

After six months of planning and preparations, last week the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program (STDP) started the translocation phase of the Wild Devil Recovery (WDR) project where we are trialling whether different release techniques produce different outcomes. 

So far two groups of Tasmanian devils have been selected from the insurance population on Maria Island in the state’s south east and have either been flown or transported by ferry and car to wukalina/Mount William in the far north-east. These devils are part of our “soft release” trial and are currently being housed in purpose built pens for up to seven to ten days where they will be closely monitored by STDP staff before the pen is opened and they are released.

This week devils for the ‘hard release’ technique will be selected from the Maria population and transported to wukalina/Mount William where they will be released later that same day.

Thanks again to the University of Sydney, Monarto Zoo and the Menzies Institute for Medical Research for their assistance in the selection and preparation of devils for this translocation phase.

The WDR project was established in 2015 as a trial to look at release techniques, vaccination efficacy to boost devil immunity to DFTD and introduce genetic diversity to incumbent wild Tasmanian devil populations. 

This is our third WDR trial in Tasmania with the previous ones taking place at Narawntapu National Park in September 2015, where 20 Tasmanian devils were released, and Stony Head in August 2016 where 33 devils were released. Translocating wild devils from Maria Island serves two purposes: firstly, devils are released into mainland Tasmanian populations that require additional genetic diversity and abundance such as wukalina/Mount William, and secondly, it keeps the Maria Island population at a sustainable level. 

Were it not for the ongoing support of the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service in providing access to land, facilities and providing staff for specific activities we would not be able to undertake projects such as these so we thank them for their assistance.

As roadkill is the second biggest threat to the survival of the Tasmanian devil, after the devil facial tumour disease, we continue to work hard to limit the number of released devils being killed on the roads especially since the first two to four weeks after the release is a particularly vulnerable time as they disperse away from the release site. 

Taking learnings from our previous WDR trials, comprehensive roadkill mitigation strategies have been developed and we would like to acknowledge the support and assistance from the Department of State Growth, the Break O’Day and Dorset councils and Stornoway in implementing some of these strategies, specifically the installation of road signs and virtual fence devices (an active electronic protection system that warns animals that a vehicle is coming). We would also like to thank Tasmania Police for their help in sharing the ‘slow down on the roads between dusk and dawn’ message for motorists and having a strong presence on rural roads around the release area as part of their ongoing rural road safety strategy.
 
Dr Carolyn Hogg from the University of Sydney, Wildlife Biologist Phil Wise from the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program and Monarto Zoo keeper Simon Dower selecting devils from the insurance population on Maria Island for translocation to wukalina/Mount William.A GPS collared devil being released into the purpose built pens for 7 to 10 days before being released into the wukalina/Mount William area.The team at Stornoway installing virtual fence devices around the release area as part of our roadkill mitigation strategy.

Despite the long hours in the field and having to work in challenging weather conditions at times, STDP staff remain in good spirits being fuelled by chocolate!!  

Once the translocation aspect of the project is complete we will then move into the three month post monitoring phase.


In other devil related news, two of our staff, Dr David Pemberton and Dr Sam Fox, have co-authored a paper assessing the viability of captive-bred Tasmanian Devils  released into the wild in Tasmania. The collaborative research study with the University of Sydney has established that devils that spent one or less generations in captivity fared better post-release than those that had been in human care over several generations. 

This study was undertaken by the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, University of Sydney, the Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia and San Diego Zoo Global. The paper “Increasing generations in captivity is associated with increased vulnerability of Tasmanian devils to vehicle strike following release to the wild ” has been published in the Nature based journal Scientific Reports.
 
Dr Sam Fox and Wildlife Biologist Drew Lee from the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program loading the first group of Tasmanian devils onto the plane for transporting to wukalina/Mount William.The second group of devils that are part of our Wild Devil Recovery Project’s ‘soft release’ trial being loaded onto the ferry before being transported by car to wukalina/Mount William.The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program team processing devils from Maria Island before placing them into purpose built pens for 7 to 10 pens as part of our ‘soft release’ trial.