Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Inside Devil's Ark

Feeding time
 During our recent visit to Barrington Tops in the NSW Central Coast hinterland, we visited Devil's Ark. The Australian Reptile Park project houses more than half the 300-strong insurance population of  Tasmanian Devils established on the mainland in response to the deadly facial tumour disease, which has wiped out 90 per cent of Tasmania's devils over the past two decades.

Glenn with devil joey

Devil tucker

We were greeted upon arrival at Devil's Ark by American-born keeper Abe Tompkins, who emerged with two cute devil joeys before taking us on a tour of the enclosures during feeding time. The devils have voracious appetites, munching their way through 75 kg of kangaroo daily. The kangaroo carcasses are kept in a large freezer; their supply is paid for by the NSW Shooters Association. The devils are fed six days a week. When Abe appears in an enclosure, the scent of the meat is quickly picked up and a flurry of devils is soon snarling and growling and snapping at each other as they tear the kangaroo portion apart.

Abe with friend
Abe is clearly enamoured with his charges. "They have so much character,", he says. "Some are quite bold, even aggressive at times. Others are much more shy. Some are highly curious."  The site is on 500ha of land donated by the Packer family, which recently gifted a further 2000ha to Devil's Ark. Next year, many of the animals will be transferred to a much larger enclosure.

Feeding time
 The animals in the facility have flourished since it was established in 2010 with 44 devils. In the 2015 breeding season, Devil's Ark produced 36 of 89 captive born joeys in the insurance program, with 63 per cent of females producing young. Keepers live on site, where other interesting animals occurring naturally include Common Wombat and Spotted-tailed Quoll. To help raise funds, Devil's Ark recently began conducting tours of the facility; visitors are able to cradle joeys and experience an informative and entertaining encounter with these remarkable animals.

Feeding time
There have been some hopeful developments in recent times with Tasmania's devils. It seems that a small minority of animals in many areas have escaped the disease, indicating that populations might evolve an immunity to the cancer. Progress on a vaccine is progressing. Devils are being reintroduced to parts of Tasmania from captive breeding programs, including Devil's Ark, which last year provided 23 animals for release on the Tasman Peninsula; three females from this population have produced young.

However, the situation remains precarious. The tumour continues to spread to far-flung parts of Tasmania which have to date been spared. Numbers of devils are so low that the risk of extinction remains. The decimation of devils has upset Tasmania's ecological balance, changing the behaviour and increasing populations of feral cats and possums. A major impediment to foxes gaining a foothold in Tasmania has been removed; the introduction of foxes would have devastating consequences for the island's wildlife. The battle for the Tasmanian Devil is far from over.

After dinner
The mainland insurance program is expensive, costing up to $10,000 per animal, though Devil's Ark has managed to keep the costs of its program to $3,000 per animal. The program operates solely by public donations and is trying to raise $1.5 million to fund its expansion. See the Devil's Ark website to see how you can help.

Devil joey

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