The Wild Devil Recovery (WDR) Project is a trial to look at release techniques, vaccination efficacy to boost devil immunity to Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) and introduce genetic diversity to incumbent wild Tasmanian devil populations. 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.
At the end of May this year, Save the Tasmanian Devil Program (STDP) released 33 devils into the wild over a two-week period. This follows on from the release of 33 devils at Stony Head in the north of the state in 2016 and 20 devils at Narawntapu National Park in September 2015. To date, there have been no reported roadkill of any of the released animals – a phenomenal result made possible by the community support and partners of STDP.
STDP staff recently completed three-months of monitoring the released devils at wukalina/Mount William and have numerous highlights including:
- Confirmation that the use of adaptive management mitigation can reduce the number of released devils being killed on nearby roads post release:
Data from previous releases had found captive devils are particularly vulnerable in the first few weeks post release. As a result, for this translocation, devils that were born on Maria Island, were released. Other mitigation measures included: positioning feed stations at different locations on the release site to ease the devils’ transition into an unfamiliar environment 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; installing virtual fences on local roads at possible roadkill hotspots; and putting GPS collars on some release devils (which have reflective tape on to help motorists see them at night) to help monitor their movements.
- Death by Leatherjacket; an unpredicted event that could cause local extinction
Long term exposure of devil populations to DFTD results in a reduction in numbers by around 80 percent. These small devil populations become isolated, genetic diversity decreases and the population becomes vulnerable to unprepared events. These are often unpredictable. A graphic example occurred on the east coast and Maria Island. Twenty (20) percent of the devils caught to be translocated to wukalina had leatherjacket barbs firmly imbedded in their mouths. These would only have come out after substantial decay around the barbed spines. They were removed with surgical pliers. The leatherjackets had washed ashore after a mass mortality event associated with ocean currents. The devils ate them. Untreated, the wounding could have caused infection and killed devils. A classic example of an event that was unpredicted and could cause local depletion and extinction.
- Finding out just how far devils can travel:
GPS collar readings provided a fascinating insight into the dispersal range of some of the animals released at wukalina. The collar readings from one male devil found he had been racking up the km’s travelling far and wide across the landscape and had in fact travelled just under 700km in two months! He had put on weight, probably as muscle with all that running.
- A visit to wukalina by Her Excellency Professor The Honourable Kate Warner AM:
As part of her tour of the Dorset municipality, Her Excellency The Governor, Mr Warner and Dorset Mayor Greg Howard were given a tour of devil release area by DR David Pemberton where they were briefed about the work of the STDP and the WDR project as well as being shown a virtual fence site and a Tasmanian devil maternity den.
- A quick update about recent monitoring at Stony Head.
Recent trapping at Stony Head has found that the three translocated devils released into the area in 2016 with small tumours are faring well. Over seven nights of trapping in September the team caught 31 animals – 27 devils and four quolls! Five of the devils caught were animals released at Stony Head as part of the WDR translocation in August 2016 and three were the animals with tumours trapped in July. The good news is that all three were in good condition. The two males had put on weight and the female had denned her pouched young. The other two release devils were also healthy, had put on weight and showed no sign of DFTD. It is with relief that the team reports that there were no welfare concerns for any of the devils caught during the trapping period.
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 each of the releases. The STDP also continues to work closely with other partners such as the University of Sydney, the University of Cambridge, Macquarie University, the Zoo and Aquarium Association of Australasia and its associated wildlife parks, the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal and San Diego Zoo Global.
Going forward, STDP staff will collate the findings from the WDR trials. The vaccine trials as part of WDR will continue, as a successful vaccine is useful for the management of the Tasmanian devil population. The findings from the WDR trials will be incorporated into a summary of ‘best practice’ in how to return devils to the wild. This methodology will then be incorporated into further translocations, with the next trial planned to be from Maria Island to Buckland in May 2018. This will be a straight-forward translocation with bait stations and camera monitoring of the released devils, and it will be timed so that the Annual Monitoring trapping trip at the site can double up as a monitoring trip of the released devils.
Finally, staff from the STDP have been busy this week translocating devils from the Freycinet FRE to Maria Island. A total of eight devils have been transported to the Freycinet FRE over recent weeks from captive facilities at Monarto, Devils@Cradle, Healesville and Cressy. The animals were health-checked and weighed and then transported by ferry across the island and released into their new homes later that evening. The eight female devils are being released onto the island to expand and improve the genetic diversity on the island.
Released devils being checked over by Save the Tasmanian Devil Program as part of the post release monitoring phase of the Wild Devil Recovery Project at wukalain, Mount William in Tasmania’s North East