Ferry, Ute and Trap - the fine art of translocating devils to and from Maria Island

The rich human history and natural beauty of Maria Island is well documented but an equally impressive conservation feat has recently been quietly and successfully completed with little fanfare. 

For six days in mid-winter, a team of biologists and researchers moved Tasmanian devils on and off Maria Island in order to increase genetic diversity and sustain the population of healthy animals in the wild.

The recent Wild Devil Recovery trapping and translocation trip by the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program (STDP) resulted in 50 devils being trapped on Maria Island, ten devils being transported to Narawntapu National Park (NNP) and five devils translocated to Silver Plains in the Central Highlands.


Dr Carolyn Hogg from University of Sydney and Dr Sam Fox from the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program on Maria Island

STDP Team Leader Dr Sam Fox said it was a detailed translocation that highlights the complexities of managing the wild devil population on Maria Island and the Tasmanian mainland.

“I really thank everyone involved for an incredibly well run week where we conducted four devil releases at different locations,” Sam explains. “I am really very proud of how everyone worked together, communicated and helped to work to ensure these translocation were a success.”

Tasmanian devil ready for release at Narawntapu National Park

Wildlife biologists from the STDP spent the week on Maria Island, trapping devils and performing monitoring and health checks. They were accompanied by researchers from the University of Sydney. 

“As part of our ongoing adaptive management, we regularly assess the population size and health of devils on Maria Island, including monitoring breeding and the survival rate of juveniles. This latest health check highlighted no issues and all devils caught were in good condition,” Sam says.

“It’s all about maintaining a healthy balance. Devils from Maria Island are translocated back to mainland Tasmania as a critical element of Wild Devil Recovery, and the Devil Program also draws on the captive insurance population for introductions of devils to the island to maintain adequate genetic diversity and to manage the population size of devils on the island.”

A complex selection process was undertaken to decide which animals were removed from the island. The STDP worked closely with the University of Sydney to give consideration as to how well an individual’s genetic line was represented on Maria Island, the age and sex of an animal, behaviour and the genetic diversity of the existing population at the release site.

“Decisions are made in real-time as the trapping takes place, and are dependent on which animal is trapped, and when, along with other factors such as the conditions on the island, the condition of the incumbent animals and the number of females with pouch young remaining on the island,” Sam explains.


Pouch young of a devil being translocated

“In all, it has been a really positive and productive week of trapping and release, and the whole team is really pleased with what has been achieved,” Sam said.

There have now been four separate releases of healthy Tasmanian devils onto Maria Island. The first was in November 2012, then October/November 2013, November 2017 and now June 2019, with a total of 42 devils released on the island. Maria Island currently houses a disease – free population of just under 80 wild Tasmanian devils.

Subsequent wild-born Maria Island devils will continue to be managed into the future to provide a genetically diverse source population for releases back on to mainland Tasmania.

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