The Tasmanian Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage, Brian Wightman, today announced a trial to send Tasmanian devils as ambassadors to overseas zoos to raise awareness of Devil Facial Tumour Disease and initiate a foreign breeding programme that will support Australia’s conservation efforts.
Mr Wightman said that the initiative would be undertaken as a pilot project over the following year, involving a limited number of high profile zoos — up to three in New Zealand and two zoos in the United States of America — and a total of about 20 devils to begin with.
“We will evaluate the program and if it is a success, it could be extended in coming years to involve up to ten zoos in North America and Europe, three in New Zealand and two in Japan.”
“We need to care for animals that are no longer actively participating in the insurance population, or that are genetically over-represented in it. This program allows us to do that, while at the same time the devils will raise awareness of the plight of their species and lock in more help for the conservation effort.”
Mr Wightman said he had approved a ‘world best practice’ framework for the initiative with strict conditions for overseas zoos and a significant return benefit to devil conservation activities within Australia. The framework approved for the Ambassador Devil initiative will ensure that the conservation benefits to the species in Australia and to the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program are the number one priority. It will ensure that the animals selected for overseas placement are no longer essential for breeding as part of the insurance population, and that only prominent zoos with a proven commitment to conservation would be considered.
While the formal ownership of the Ambassador devils will remain with the Tasmanian government, the institutions selected will be required to adhere to the highest standard of animal husbandry, based on the Program’s own strict guidelines.
Mr Wightman said the zoos will be selected on the basis of the quality of husbandry and the facilities they can provide, together with the likely level of public exposure the devils will receive:
“They must also demonstrate their willingness to be directly involved in conservation activities for Tasmanian devils within Australia.”
The Program and the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal are working together to make best use of any fundraising opportunities from the public promotion provided by these placements and any investments made by overseas zoos in work in Australia on Tasmanian devils.
The program is launched just after the first ever birth of Tasmanian devils in the northern hemisphere, in which conception actually took place in the northern hemisphere. Other births have been recorded with female Tasmanian devils which were sent to foreign zoos already with tiny pouch young. This success at Copenhagen Zoo was a clear incentive for the Tasmanian Government to continue to expand the breeding programme for these magnificent animals, according to Androo Kelly, the president and owner of Trowunna Wildlife Park in Tasmania, where Copenhagen Zoo’s devils originally come from.