Devils doomed unless island home found

ABC ONLINE

Time is running out to save the tasmanian devil from a deadly cancer that has killed more than 70 per cent of the population.

Four years ago the Tasmanian Government started sending healthy devils interstate as an insurance population.

But the Noah’s Ark plan has collected fewer than 200 devils over the past four years, and the Tasmanian Government has been urged to find an island for healthy devils or risk driving the animal to extinction.

The facial tumour disease now covers more than half the state, and Peter McGlone says scientists have stopped collecting undiseased devils from the wild.

“They put a halt to collecting healthy animals at the end of last year,” he said.

“They could have collected all 1,500 animals by now, [but] they simply do not have enough spaces in zoos and wildlife parks to put them.

“The disease, as we know, continues to spread west. We’re running out of time.”

Geoff King runs his devil tours from Tasmania’s west, which is the last place free from the disease, and he too thinks time is running out to source healthy animals.

“[There] doesn’t appear to be any space to put the healthy devils,” he said.

“And so as the threats to the devils on this western part of the coast increase, it seems like we are losing that window of opportunity to get those healthy animals … into the secure areas where we can use them as stock.”

Mr McGlone says an offshore insurance population on an island is the devil’s last chance.

“One thing’s for sure, if they don’t continue collecting healthy animals they will eventually run out of any opportunity to collect healthy animals, and that’s just a nightmare we can’t allow to happen,” he said.

“And so we’re calling on the Government now to actually commit to putting devils on islands. We believe there are a lot of large islands where devils would thrive.”

Mr McGlone’s sentiments were reiterated by Mr King.

“Maria Island was talked [about] but there were others that were talked about, but they were in informal discussions so I’m not really prepared to flag them,” he said.

But the chairman of the Devil Island program, Bruce Englefield is not completely convinced.

“The devil is a top of the chain food predator and if there’s any other animals on that island it would obviously have quite an impact on anything from the small marsupials, through to Cape Barron geese,” he said.

“This is one of the big problems with putting them on an island.”

A spokesman says the Government is assessing islands and looking at other ways to expand the insurance population, but warns there is no magic bullet.

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Filed under animals, biodiversity, conservation, endangered, environment, environmentalism, extinction, nature, wildlife, zoology

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