Tasmanian Devils, Sarcophilus harrisii, are the largest carnivorous marsupials in the world today. Devils once occurred on mainland Australia, but have been confined to Tasmania since pre-European times.
The survival of Tasmanian Devils is threatened by Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), and the species is now listed as Endangered. DFTD causes tumours around the mouth, face and neck of Devils. The disease develops rapidly and is fatal: affected animals die within six months of the lesions first appearing.
Healesville Sanctuary aims to breed and manage a sustainable captive population of about 120 Devils for at least 10 years as part of the 'Save the Tasmanian Devil’ program.
DFTD is contagious - the cancer cells are spread by biting during feeding and mating. It has spread across approximately 60% of Tasmania (Feb 2010) and has caused a rapid decline in wild Devil populations.
The ‘Save the Tasmanian Devil’ program was established to investigate the disease through population monitoring, disease diagnostics and wild population management.
As part of this program, Healesville Sanctuary is one of eighteen zoos taking Tasmanian Devils. If the catastrophic decline of this species continues, these captive populations could become an essential source of animals for reintroduction to the wild.
During this time, authorities are working to eradicate the DFTD from Tasmania. The overall insurance program aims to hold up to 1500 breeding animals (or ~5000 individuals in total over 50 years).
Zoos Victoria’s key roles in the recovery of the Tasmanian Devil are to:
- Breed and manage a captive insurance population
- Assist with population monitoring programs
- Research captive breeding techniques and DFTD
- Increase community awareness and support for the Tasmanian Devil.
Plans and publications
- Tasmanian Devils are the largest living carnivorous marsupials in the world.