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Saving our Devils' Wild Future

Matthew Groom, Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage

Saving our Devils' Wild Future

Right now, we have a special window of opportunity in the fight to save the Tasmanian Devil and re-establish healthy populations in the wild.

That's because the Tasmanian Devil, as a species, is now more secure than it has been at any time during the past decade.

This is due to the fantastic work of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program to date and, in particular, the outstanding success of the Insurance Population Program.

A sustainable and genetically diverse insurance population of over 600 devils is now established, and is being maintained in the program's facilities and in 31 zoos and wildlife parks across Australia.

A wild population of Tasmanian devils has also been established on Maria Island where devils, and the disease, did not previously exist.  28 disease free devils were originally released on the island in 2012 and 2013.  Following several successful breeding seasons, it is estimated that there are now over 70 wild devils on the island. 

At the same time, the Tasman Landscape Isolation Project is now well underway, and the program is moving ahead with plans to repopulate the Forestier and Tasman Peninsulas with disease-free devils from late next year.

The success of the insurance population means that the future of the species is now much more secure but if we are to save the Tasmanian Devil's wild population we must seize this window. The challenge of securing a future for the devil in the wild remains profound. But we now have a special opportunity to act. 

It is for this reason that the Tasmanian Government, in concert with the Commonwealth Government, is commencing a new Wild Devil Recovery Project. Through the new Project the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program will be refocusing efforts towards population monitoring, field research and research and development into possible vaccines and immunisation techniques.

The new Project will comprise a number of key initiatives including:

*           A field work initiative at Stoney Head in the North East of the State, on land managed by the Department of Defence, initially to trap and monitor the movement of devils, and then to test ways of augmenting the wild population.

*           A population monitoring initiative which will focus on better understanding the impact of the disease in Tasmania's North East, where the disease first began to spread.

*           Field trials undertaken in collaboration with the Menzies Institute for Medical Research to test a new immunisation technique Menzies has developed.

Despite the presence of the disease in the North East over a long period of time and the savaging of the devil population in the region, our monitoring of the population suggests that the Devil is continuing to survive albeit in extremely low numbers.

Our best estimates are that the number of devils in the North East have remained fairly constant over the course of the last decade. Securing a future for the Devil in the wild requires us to have a much better understanding of what is occurring with the population in this part of the State.

As part of the Wild Devil Recovery Project we will be deferring the planned landscape isolation project on the Freycinet Peninsula for further consideration at a later time. 

This will allow us to invest in the Tasman Landscape Isolation Project on the Tasman Peninsula and we will test and refine the concept in that setting. These learnings will be invaluable in developing further landscape isolation projects in the future.

We will also continue to invest appropriately in maintaining the insurance population at appropriate levels. It is the success of this initiative that has been critical in providing the window of opportunity to commence the new Wild Devil Recovery Project.

This is an exciting and important new phase for our efforts to save our iconic species, the Tasmanian Devil, in the wild. We owe it to this precious and iconic species to secure a strong, disease free future in its natural setting, where it belongs – in the wild.