Captive management of an endangered species involves bringing together genetically diverse individuals into a secure managed area and breeding them, thereby creating a managed population (known as the meta-population as it includes animals from a variety of sources) in case of the species extinction in the wild.
The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program (STDP) identified very early on in their conservation efforts that an insurance population of Tasmanian devils should be established to help secure the species against the threat of extinction due to Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD).
Over the ensuing years the STDP’s Insurance Population has grown significantly and currently there are around 700 Tasmanian devils available for breeding and supplementing wild populations. These devils are held in captive management facilities across Tasmania and mainland Australia with close to 40 participating institutions.
The STDP captive management facilities in Tasmania include intensive management facilities at Cressy as well as Free Range Enclosures (FREs) and semi-wild natural environments like islands.
Intensive management facilities
The Cressy Wildlife Centre is the main captive management site run by the STDP. A new independent bio-secure quarantine area was built in 2015 enabling the program to house devils of an unknown health status without impacting on the healthy captive population in the existing facility. Further upgrades at the Cressy centre saw eight temporary animal pens replaced with permanent structures allowing the site to potentially house a population of around 100 devils compared to the previous 60. Intensive management facilities such as these are important for quarantine purposes and targeted mating.
STDP Intensive captive management facility at Cressy
Baby Tasmanian devil being weighed at Cressy captive facility
Free Range Enclosures (FREs)
In addition to the intensive management facility at Cressy, the STDP also manages devils in FREs. These 22 hectare enclosures enable groups of devils to live together, breed, and generally promote wild behaviours by allowing devils to engage in normal wild devil activities.
The first FRE was built in 2008 and since then three more have been constructed. Of these FREs one is currently being used for breeding purposes while another is being used to prepare intensive captive animals for release onto Maria Island.
A disease-free population of Tasmanian devils was established on
in 2012 to provide insurance against the threat of extinction due to DFTD. These wild-born and disease-free devils would then be used to re-populate areas on mainland Tasmania that have declined due to DFTD.
Establishing a wild, healthy population of devils on Maria Island enabled them to maintain the wild attributes and behaviors of the species (something that could potentially diminish in captive populations over time). Additionally a wild, self-sustaining population of devils on the island required minimal management and was therefore considered to be a cost effective measure when compared with intensive captive facilities.
STDP's highly successful release of devils onto Maria Island has seen the initial 28 devils released there breed successfully and create a population of over 100 devils on the island.
- Scientific research has shown there are significant differences between captive held devils and their wild counterparts* with regards to maintenance of wild behaviours.
- Analysis is currently underway to assess changes in the microbiome** of devils released as part of the STDP’s
Wild Devil Recovery Project. Findings of this study will be available to the Tasmanian devil management teams in late 2018.
Baseline characterisation of gut, skin, pouch and oral microbiome in the Tasmanian devil2015 Cheng et al. Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
- Releases at Narawntapu National Park and Forestier Peninsula in 2015 respectively, resulted in a number of road deaths.
- Analysis of these releases highlighted that the number of generations a devil spends in captivity increases its likelihood of being a victim of road strike***. This led to changes in the release cohort (year group) for the releases at Stony Head in 2016 and wukalina/Mount William in 2017. Analysis is currently underway on a follow up study.
**Microbiome is a measure of flora and fauna in the stomach of animals including people, this is an increasing indicator and influence of overall health.
Farquharson, K. A., Hogg, C. J. , Grueber, C. E. (2017). Pedigree analysis reveals a generational decline in reproductive success of captive Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii): Implications for captive management of threatened species. Journal of Heredity 108, 488.
Gooley, R., Hogg, C.J., Belov, K. & Grueber, C.E. (2017). No evidence of inbreeding depression in a
Tasmanian devil insurance population despite significant variation in inbreeding. Scientific Reports.
Gooley, R., Hogg, C.J., Belov, K. & Grueber, C.E. (2018). The effects of group versus intensive housing on the retention of genetic diversity in insurance populations. BMC Zoology.
***Grueber, C.E., Reid-Wainscoat, E.E., Fox, S., Belov, K., Shier, D.M., Hogg, C.J. et al. (2017). Increasing generations in captivity is associated with increased vulnerability of Tasmanian devils to vehicle strike following release to the wild. Scientific Reports, 7, 2161.
Hogg, C. J., Ivy, J. A., Srb, C., Hockley, J., Lees, C., Hibbard, C. , Jones, M. (2015). Influence of genetic
provenance and birth origin on productivity of the Tasmanian devil insurance population. Conservation Genetics 16, 1465.