Wild Devil Recovery Update
released into the wild are persisting despite a range of threats including disease
The latest monitoring,
as part of the Wild Devil Recovery Project, has found devils have survived
translocation, settled into release sites, put on weight and have started to
Program Manager, Dr
David Pemberton, of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program (STDP) says the first
birth to a translocated devil in the wild with wild devils was recorded during
monitoring at Stony Head in the state’s north last month.
“This is a major
milestone for the Wild Devil Recovery Project (WDR),” Dr Pemberton said. “As
part of our monitoring, biologists trapped a four-year devil with three pouch
“This shows that
devils can be released into the wild and they are breeding. The tracking data
is suggesting that the introductions provide an influx of genetic diversity into
an area up to 20km from the release site. Increased genetic diversity and
numbers of devils gives evolution a chance.”
The Wild Devil
Recovery Project is a trial to bring devils back into the wild and to trial the
development of a vaccine.
One of the biggest
challenges is rebuilding wild devil populations in areas where Devil Facial
Tumour Disease (DFTD) is present. The WDR is looking at whether vaccination can
successfully provide an immunity boost to devils against DFTD while studying
the impacts on resident devil populations.
Routine monitoring at
Stony Head in the past few weeks has found that three of the translocated
devils released into the area in 2016 have small tumours.
Professor Greg Woods
from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania said
that this was a risk.
“Although all the
immunized devils produced an immune response, a trial in the wild was the only
way to determine if the immunisation would protect against DFTD,” Professor
“The findings are
valuable as they indicated that the immunisations were not completely
requires taking risks. Vaccine research is complex and is confronted with many
challenges. Our next challenge is to determine why three devils were not
protected and to modify the immunisation procedure to provide full protection,”
Professor Woods said.
The Menzies Institute
for Medical Research and the STDP are working closely with other partners such
as the University of Sydney to understand devil and tumour evolution in the
face of translocations.
Professor Kathy Belov
from the University of Sydney says the impact of genetic rescue on tumour
genetics is being investigated.
“DFTD has led to a
drop in the number of wild devils. Because resources are plentiful devils stay
closer to home and we are seeing local increases in inbreeding,” Professor
us to carry out ‘genetic rescue’ and move extra genetic diversity into small
isolated populations. Genetic rescue is really important as it makes wild
populations more resilient to future challenges, including threats from disease
and climate change.”
The vaccine trials as
part of Wild Devil Recovery will continue, as a successful vaccine is useful
for the management of the Tasmanian devil population
The Save the
Tasmanian Devil Program and Menzies Institute for Medical Research has worked
incredibly hard to maximise the success of the Wild Devil Recovery Project and
a great deal has been learnt from the previous releases that will inform how
future releases are managed.
In May this year, 33
devils were released into the wild at wukalina/Mount William in the state’s
northeast as part of WDR. This follows on from the release of 33 devils at
Stony Head in the north of the state in 2016, 20 devils at Narawntapu National
Park in September 2015 and 39 devils on the Forestier Peninsula in November
Another key learning
has been adaptive management mitigation to reduce the number of released devils
being killed on nearby roads.
Dr Sam Fox from the
STDP said no devils have died from roadkill from the wukalina/Mount William
release in May this year.
“This is encouraging
news as data from previous releases found captive devils are particularly
vulnerable in the first two to four weeks as they disperse away from the
release site and transition back to wild living,” Dr Fox said.
Some of the
mitigation steps that the Program has put into place for the translocation into
the wild included:
Only releasing devils
from Maria Island because it is clear that captive born devils are more
vulnerable to road kill;
stations at different locations on the release site to ease the devils’
transition from captive to wild living and reducing the need to disperse;
Working closely with
the Department of State Growth, local councils and Stornoway to erect road signage on the main roads and local
roads reminding people to slow down and be aware of wildlife, and installing
virtual fences on local roads at possible roadkill hotspots;
And putting temporary
GPS collars on some release devils, which have reflective tape on to help
motorists see them at night, to help monitor their movements.
“When the STDP was
established, one of its core aims was to ensure the survival of the devil in
the wild. The Wild Devil Recovery Project is a method of genetic rescue which will
assist restoration of devils in the wild and help protect the ecosystem,” Dr Pemberton
“We must continue to
take risks to bolster devil numbers and implement genetic rescue. Wild devil releases in Tasmania are critical
in the ongoing national effort to secure a future for the species in the wild.”
Professor Greg Woods from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at
the University of Tasmania
Dr David Pemberton, Manager of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program
Greg Irons, Director of Bonorong Wildlife
The Wild Devil
Recovery Project (WDR) commenced in 2014 and has a focus on recovery of the
Tasmanian devil in the wild. The WDR is a trial looking at strategies to
explore ways to rebuild disease-affected populations; determine the genetic
effectiveness of a vaccine to provide wild devils with resistance and immunity
to DFTD and establish special management zones across Tasmania to coordinate
management of wild devils.
The Save the
Tasmanian Devil Program and Menzies Institute for Medical Research acknowledge
the strong support from a range of partner organisations including the
University of Sydney, the University of Cambridge, Macquarie University, the
Zoological and Aquarium Association of Australasia and its associated wildlife
parks, the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal and San Diego Zoo Global.