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Tasmanian Devils, Sarcophilus harrisii, are the largest living 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 transmissible cancerous tumours, genearlly around the mouth, face and neck of Devils. The disease develops rapidly and is fatal: affected animals usually die within six months of the lesions first appearing. DTFD has spread across approximately 90% of Tasmania and has caused a rapid decline in wild Devil populations. Across their range, there has been a reduction in sightings of more than 80%. Tasmanian Devils are further threatened by roads and cars, with vehicle strike the second biggest killer of devils in the wild.
Healesville Sanctuary is part of a long-term insurance program and aims to breed and manage a sustainable captive population of up to 50 Devils for at least 10 years as part of the 'Save the Tasmanian Devil’ program. Devils have been released from Healesville Sanctuary in 2013, 2015 and 2017 to DTFD free locations on Maria Island and the Tasman Peninsula.
The ‘Save the Tasmanian Devil’ program was established to investigate the disease through population monitoring, disease diagnostics and wild population management.
If the catastrophic decline of this species continues, these captive populations could become an essential source of animals for reintroduction to the wild.
Zoos Victoria’s key roles in the recovery of the Tasmanian Devil are to:
- Breed and manage a genetically and behaviourally robust captive insurance population
- Release Tasmanian Devils to DTFD free wild locations
- Assist with population monitoring programs in the wild
- Research captive breeding techniques, wild management and DFTD
- Increase community awareness and support for the Tasmanian Devil.
Tasmanian Devils are the largest living carnivorous marsupials in the world.