|Jean-Francois DuCroz releasing a devil with GPS collar Photo: Kyler Abernathy, National Geographic|
We who were camping in the Tarkine with the Bob Brown Foundation over Easter were not the devils, though some in the resources industry might think so. We had the exciting opportunity to meet up with Channing Hughes and his team from the University of Sydney, who were researching the Tassie devil in our area, the Frankland river. As you may know, this carnivore is under threat from a deadly facial tumour which has been spreading rapidly throughout the population. Until recently it had not percolated through to Tasmania’s northwest, but the researchers are now finding some individuals with these horrible lumps on their faces. However the conservation effort is taking a hopeful turn.
On the second day several carloads of us found Channing and team out in the forestry roads, where they were checking traps. He had just released a devil from a trap which it had been lured into with a fragrant piece of pademelon. (A pademelon is like a kangaroo but terrier-sized and very cute.) We did not see the devil but smelled it - the stink! Channing was engaged in cleaning the trap in preparation for the next night. He told us that the tumour is very unusual, because it is a cancer that is transmittable. The devils bite each other on the face, especially in the mating season, or if they’re scrapping over some carrion. The cancer cells then carry over and lodge in the competitor’s face. By contrast, when devils are being handled by people they go into a kind of torpor. They’re so passive that researchers can open their mouths ( no doubt pegging their noses first) and fiddle with their teeth. Some of these little guys are fitted with GPS tracking devices and ‘devilcam’.
We were keen to see a devil for ourselves so we followed the team around as they checked their traps. That morning there were no more devils. Channing had told us that a vaccine has been developed for the tumour and it is working. I was traveling in our guide Jef’s car, and he told us what is happening on Maria Island, where he works. It is functioning as a grand devil experiment. They were not an original part of the island fauna, neither were the feral cats. Devils were introduced to Maria Island, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, with GPS collars and without. Jef says, “The devils were released on the northern end of the island and quickly established themselves down to the southern end.” They have outcompeted the cats who now reside in extremely steep and rugged areas on the eastern side of the island. “Gps trackers and remote cameras are evidence of this”. Isn’t this great news? A bushwalker who’d been on Maria last year, told me of the numbers of devils scavenging around campsites. There are also eastern quolls on the island, and they form part of the native predator mix.
But there is a down side for the island. Two years after the devil release, penguin numbers plummeted. They are now surviving “on the south end of the island where steep granite cliffs by the water offer refuge from devils,” says Jef.
|wildlife in a myrtle tree|
Channing told us that their program, the Carnivore Conservancy, is linked with universities both here and overseas, and zoos. There is an international effort going on. In our region, the sanctuary at Secret Creek near Lithgow is partnering with the devil breeding program at Barrington Tops. They have just begun to provide a “retirement package”, two months ago they took charge of two females who’ve done their breeding duty.
|Me having quiet time by the Frankland River photo credit: Isabel Mai Owe Young|
By the time you read this, the wedge-tailed eagle breeding season begins, which means a ban on logging in the Frankland river coupes. The devils and their dinners have a reprieve until February 10th, 2018.
You can read more about the Carnivore Conservancy at: www.carnivores.co