Zoo Zurich is committed to the protection of the Tasmanian devil. Nowadays, the animal lives only in breeding centres and zoos on the Australian mainland. Zoo Zurich supports the Tasmanian devil breeding programme at its Australian conservation partner Australian Reptile Park.
The Tasmanian devil is a representative of the dasyuridae family. The animal lives alone in abandoned ground ditches or caves, and forages for food at night. They hunt but mostly they prefer to feed on carrion. They devour the whole of the animal, including its fur. Their diet includes small mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Their weight reaching eight kilos, the Tasmanian devil is the largest carnivorous marsupial in Australia.
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CONSERVATION IN PRACTICE
Every year Zoo Zürich makes a substantial financial contribution to the conservation of the Tasmanian devil. In addition to the Tasmanian devil, five more endangered marsupial species are bred at the Australian Ark breeding centre: Brown Bandicoot, Eastern quoll, Eastern bettong, Long-nosed Potoroo and Parma wallaby. The aim of the breeding effort is to re-introduce the species into the wild in the long-term.
Tasmanian devils are only found in Tasmania nowadays. In mainland Australia, they are extinct. The animal has been protected since 1941.
In 1996, a new type of cancer spreading among wild Tasmanian devils was identified. It affects the animal’s face. The tumours grow and prevent the animals from feeding normally. In later stages of the disease, after about a year, the animals starve to death. The cancer is spreading rapidly. In some areas of Tasmania, the wild population has completely collapsed. It is assumed that cancer cells are transmitted within the population through infected saliva. It usually happens during fights over food or females, when the animals bite each other.
The Australian Ark is a 500-hectare breeding station, located 1,400 metres above sea level in the Barrington Tops Mountains. In this area, the Tasmanian devil has been extinct for 3,000 years. The climate and the terrain are perfect. This station has been operating since 2011, and the breeding programme has so far been a success. In addition to two breeding stations in Tasmania, several zoos in mainland Australia are also taking part in the programme.
90% of the wild Tasmanian devils have disappeared. The breeding programme is their last chance.
Tim Faulkner, Director Australian Reptile Park: Tim Faulkner is the director of the Australian Reptile Park near Sydney. He also manages the breeding centre to save the Tasmanian devil. Tim Faulkner was nominated Naturalist of the Year in 2015 by the Australian Geographic Society.
Dr. Martin Bauert is primarily responsible for Zoo Zurich’s nature conservation projects. He is vice president of the Swiss special committee for the interests of the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species CITES.