Nov 16

A group of Tasmanian devils is to be transferred to a small offshore island in the hope of creating a self-sustaining population, free from the disease that is threatening the survival of the species.

Photo of a pair of juvenile Tasmanian devils at the entrance to the den

Juvenile Tasmanian devils at entrance to den

Found only in Tasmania, the Tasmanian devil population has been decimated in recent years by a highly contagious facial cancer. The cancer is spread through bites when the animals fight, and typically causes death within three to six months. Few disease-free areas now remain, and the Tasmanian devil population has plummeted by a staggering 91%.

Insurance population

In a desperate attempt to save this iconic species from extinction, 14 individuals are to be released on Maria Island, a national park off Tasmania’s east coast. The animals will be carefully selected from captive breeding programmes across Australia which have been set up to try and prevent the Tasmanian devil from dying out.

Photo of Tasmanian devil with Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD)

Tasmanian devil with Devil Facial Tumour Disease

The Maria Island translocation is designed to establish a self-sustaining population of healthy wild devils in a safe haven where they are protected from interaction with the deadly facial tumour disease,” said Brian Wightman, Tasmania’s Environment Minister. “It will strengthen the insurance population of disease-free Tasmanian devils, help preserve wild traits in the insurance population and provide genetic stock for future reintroductions.”

Last resort

A rugged island that can only be reached by boat or plane, Maria Island has never before been home to Tasmanian devils, so there should be no risk of disease. Experts believe the animals are unlikely to impact other native species on the island, although the ecosystem will be carefully monitored.

Photo of adult and juvenile Tasmanian devils fighting

The contagious cancer is spread through bites when Tasmanian devils fight over food and territory

According to Australia’s Environment Minister, Tony Burke, transferring the devils is a last resort, and has to be performed with good scientific oversight. All the animals will be carefully screened before they are released.

If the transfer is successful, scientists plan to increase the number of Tasmanian devils on Maria Island to about 50 over the next 2 years.

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Australia’s Tasmanian devils to get fresh start on new island.

View photos and videos of Tasmanian devils on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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