In the remote Barrington Tops National Park of Australia’s New South Wales, a small conservation hero burrows in her den. Angel the Tasmanian Devil has a full house in her pouch, with four joeys to nurse, groom and protect. These may seem like routine activities for a marsupial mom, but they’re a very big deal now that Tasmanian Devils are teetering on the brink of extinction.
Angel is a superstar mom at Devil Ark, mainland Australia’s most successful captive breeding facility for Tasmanian Devils and one of GWC’s key partners. Her latest litter gave Devil Ark the 300th devil joey bred into its program since its founding in 2011. Devil Ark is building an insurance population of devils, a project spurred by devastation in their homeland of Tasmania. Across the island state, a transmissible, painful and fatal disease called Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) has decimated up to 90 percent of the wild population. DFTD is one of the only known contagion cancers. It renders the devils unable to eat or drink, and there is no vaccine or cure.
DFTD was first found in 1996. Its rapid spread makes every healthy joey a precious commodity.
That’s why Angel is especially amazing. She is finishing her three-year breeding career with a perfect record: Every breeding season she has produced her maximum of four joeys, for a total of 12. Devil Ark started out with 44 founder devils and now has around 150, which is more than half the mainland’s insurance population.
“This is a numbers game and more is better. Angel’s breeding consistency has just been fantastic,” says Tim Faulkner, general manager of Australian Reptile Park and Devil Ark. “Growing a disease-free population here at Devil Ark will ensure the gene pool is varied enough for the species to survive.”
While Angel is a standout devil, overall the Devil Ark breeding program has maintained a higher-than-average reproductive output. And that’s because the team has worked very hard to understand this shy, elusive species and perfect its breeding model and living conditions.
For example, after studying Tasmanian Devil social structures, the Devil Ark team built its enclosures large enough to house eight reproductive-aged adults rather than a classic pair. They found this best emulated conditions in the wild and promoted genetic diversity. It also helped them retail all the traits that make the devil, well…devilish.
The world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, the tenacious “Tassie” has long been a source of pride—and pest control—for Tasmania. As a native predator, Tasmanian Devils help control feral cats and foxes that threaten other endangered and endemic species.
“We look forward to the day we can release some of our devils into their native habitat to replenish the population and restore balance,” Faulkner says. “Until then, we’ll continue to do all we can to build a healthy, thriving population on the mainland.”
Once her current joeys are old enough to detach and become independent, Angel will move from a breeding yard into a yard with other retired females to rest and enjoy her final years. Playing off the Tasmanian Devil’s mascot-like qualities, Devil Ark encourages Australians to “adopt” Angel and its other devils through donations. The facility also raises funds through guided public tours.
As a partner of Devil Ark, at GWC we’re helping the organization double its insurance population of devils and are promoting its adoption program. To create room for the population, Devil Ark is building a new, $1.5 million space for joeys and retired devils.
“Few species are more iconic ambassadors of their homeland than the Tasmanian Devil,” says Don Church, GWC’s president. “Devil Ark’s amazing effort to save them should make all Australians proud.”
You can help save the Tasmanian Devil by adopting one of our ambassador devils for $75. Your donation will support Devil Ark’s essential conservation work.
(Top photo of Angel courtesy of Devil Ark)