March 3, 2016 – The Tasmanian devil is one of Australia’s most iconic and most recognised native animals, but its population over the last 20 years has been decimated by a rare, fatal and incurable contagious form of cancer, devil facial tumour disease (DFTD).
First discovered in 1996, Tasmanian devils are the only animal affected by the disease. Animals that contract the disease die within six to 12 months of the cancer becoming visible, often due to starvation, as they become unable to eat. And since that time, in just 20 years, approximately 80% of the population has been lost to DFTD.
The disease is transmitted by the Tasmania devils biting one another, and other close contact. Although vaccine research is at an exciting stage, with early trials giving hope that a single injection vaccine may soon be available, according to Rebecca Cuthill, Fundraising manager of ‘Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal’. The largest conservation programme in Australia, it is a joint $A52 million (funding from 2008 until 2019) initiative between the Australian Federal and Tasmanian governments.
Key objectives of the project are:
• Maintain a Tasmanian devil population in the wild through managing the impact of devil facial tumour disease and minimising the impact of other threats.
• Maintain the current genetic diversity of the Tasmanian devil.
• Establish a sustainable disease-free insurance population for possible future release into the wild. (In 2005, it was decided that Tasmanian devils in the insurance population were to be isolated and housed in purpose-built quarantine enclosures before being sent to wildlife institutions in mainland Australia, approved by the Zoo and Aquarium Association. The programme has now been extended globally to include the Tasmanian Devil Ambassador Program, which includes San Diego Zoo Global, Albuquerque BioPark, Wellington Zoo, Auckland Zoo and Orana Wildlife Park near Christchurch).
• Manage the ecological impacts of a reduced Tasmanian devil population over its natural range.
In November 2012, 15 DFTD-free Tasmanian devils were relocated to Maria Island National Park to form the first wild insurance population for the species on an offshore island in Tasmania. The group comprised eight females and seven males, with ages ranging from one to three years. Soon after another group of devils were released.
Last year, over a period a nine months, 39 Tasmanian devils were given three vaccines and a booster to help them become immune from the DFTD. In mid-November they were relocated to theForestier and Tasman peninsulas. Unfortunately due to road accidents, 12 were killed.
Rebecca says getting awareness out about the Tasmanian devil is vital to fundraising. One way the public can become involved is by hosting a ‘black and white day’.
“There is no particular day and it gives schools, community groups and corporates the chance to help raise funds for the Tassie devil not only in Tasmania, but throughout Australia and beyond,” Rebecca said.
There are simple ways people can help both wild Tasmanian devils and those that have been released back into the wild in the designated areas:
• Slow down on the road between dusk and dawn
• Stay informed about activities being undertaken by the Program
• Report Tasmanian devil roadkill sightings.
• Make a donation to the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal.
• Participate in the black and white day
• The appeal can help anyone interested in running a fundraiser, please contact them for further details.