Giving hope to the iconic Tasmanian devil
Devil Ark leads the way in
Australian animal conservation
Hi Inga & Neville
Devil Ark is now recognised as the leading breeding facility for Tasmanian devils and home to almost 200 of these iconic marsupials.
There are now twelve free range enclosures at Devil Ark and the fourth breeding season has just started. It’s funny – when we first placed the founder devils into Devil Ark in January 2011, we were unsure whether they’d settle enough to breed at all that year. We lived on tender hooks for three months; just monitoring the devils from afar to see if they showed any signs of breeding. These signs include the female devil developing a roll of fat around her neck (which the keepers think looks like a Mohawk!) to protect her when the male drags her into the den and it’s also where the joeys hang onto when they first venture out of the den. The female can look really red in the ears and eyes – it almost looks like she’s in a trance and she’s constantly dragging nesting material into her den.
Girls go through three breeding cycles from February to June (called oestrous) so joeys born in a breeding season can be older by four months. Once the devils have mated (yes, he does drag her into the den!), the male will guard her den for around seven days. This is called mate guarding. However, it’s a long time without eating, so if he sneaks off to find some food, another male may enter the den and mate with her. The Tasmanian devil is one of the few animals that can have multiple sires in the same litter of joeys.
Around 25 joeys are born just 19-21 days later, but only the first four that attach to mum’s teat will live, so it’s survival of the fittest right from the start. The amazing thing is that they remain loyal to one teat for the duration so it’s easy for keepers to tell if mum had one, two, three or four joeys by how many teats are active.
Anyway, back to my original story! We waited that first year and saw some promising signs, however it wasn’t until June that we could actually trap a female and check her pouch for young. So on a bitter winter’s day in the alpine conditions that are Devil Ark, we nervously opened the trap with anticipation. To our delight, the female devil had a “pouch full” – four joeys the size of jelly beans (and pink too) were spotted before the keepers quickly let mum go back to her den. So it was high-fives all ‘round and the sense of relief that our little conservation project was working! After all the hard work of building Devil Ark from nothing, in the middle of the bush, in torrential rain – we had joeys! It was a fantastic feeling for sure; one of the greatest days of my life. That season, we didn’t think we’d have any joeys, but the final count came in at 26!
In Tasmania, the latest statistics on Devil Facial Tumour Disease are grim. More than 85% of the State is affected and in some parts, less than 10% of the wild population remains.
That’s why Devil Ark is so important. Insurance breeding facilities like Devil Ark mean that we can repopulate Tasmania once Devil Facial Tumour Disease has finally run its course. Because the disease is only transmitted via biting, once the last devil has gone, the disease has gone. At this time, our devils will return to their home state and our ambitious job of saving the species from extinction will be done. My favourite animal is the Thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) and this magnificent creature became extinct in 1936. Please don’t let the devil go the same way. Our motto at Devil Ark is extinction is not an option!
I wish you and your family a safe and Happy Easter. Autumn at Devil Ark is just beautiful, with the heat of summer behind us and the cool winds of winter approaching. Please help us continue our quest, every donation counts – and please – help us spread the word about Devil Ark by liking us on Facebook (facebook.com/tassiedevilark).