Fighting for the Tasmanian devil: photos, video – Ararat Advertiser

Posted: July 30, 2017 at 2:29 pm


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Tasmanian devils have been decimated in recent years, this is what it takes to make sure they survive.

Jodie Elmer and Drew Lee checking on a trapped devil.

HEALTHY: A Save the Tasmanian Devil team check over a devil in the North East. Pictures: Neil Richardson

Save the Tasmanian Devil manager David Pemberton using a VHS tracker to locate released devils.

Road signs are part of a strategy to reduce devil deaths due to road traffic.

A sample of blood is taken from each devil to use for testing.

David Pemberton points out a devil den.

These virtual fences have proved effective at reducing devil deaths on the roads.

This is a chip tag reader, which scans devils on the way in to eat food left inside retrieving a range of information recorded on it.

Jodie Elmer loves her job on the Save the Tasmanian Devil team.

The VHS tracker emits beeps when near a devil.

David Pemberton explains the extensive range of devils, who love water and the beach.

These white traps are much less stressful for Tasmanian devils than traditional wire traps.

The yellow dots mark the movements of one of the released devils over a vast area.

This chip monitoring station has proved a great success.

Loading up ready to start the days work checking traps.

Microchipping a devil the team hasn't encountered before.

Weighing the devil (7 kilograms).

Traps ready for loading.

Collars like these are placed on the released devils initially to provide data on their movements.

Dr Pemberton explains how much devil populations have declined in the Wukalina/Mount William area.

The virtual fences are activated by headlights striking them.

"Osprey" ready for a check-up.

Taking blood and microchipping allows the team to keep track of devils.

Nice clean fangs.

Baby Tasmanian devils discovered in the pouch.

Open wide.

The program is vital to the continuation of devils in the wild.

With casuarina trees whipping in the wind above him David Pemberton pointedtowards a spread of grey-coloured animal scats, filled with little white shards of bone.

This is a Tasmanian Devil latrine, theSave the Tasmanian Devil manager explained.

It is where many devils come to deposit their scats, actinglike a visitor book of sorts letting devils know who else has come by in the night.

Its a key lesson or example of how socially conscious [devils] are, they want to know who else is around, Dr Pemberton said.

"Osprey" the Tasmanian devil getting a check-up. Pictures: Neil Richardson

Since the release of 33 devils in the North Eastin May there has been a team fromSave the Tasmanian Devil permanently stationed at the Parks and Wildlife house in Mount William National Park.

They have been monitoring the released devils daily using a range of technologies and methods, including GPS tracking, bush cameras, VHS tracking and setting traps.

As part of the relocation of the devils, which were from Maria Island, the team laid their scats at the latrines, to introduce them to the incumbent devils.

Since researchers first came to the Wukalina/Mount William area 20 years ago the population of devils has nose-dived to just 10 to 20 per cent of original numbers.

Where once the population of devils numberedaround 200, it now sits at around 20.

The rapid decline in the population is due to the rise of the deadly Devil Facial Tumor Disease, Dr Pembertonsaid.

Dr Pemberton said the disease is now a part of the devils ecology, and is something that needs to be managed into the future.

The Wild Devil Recovery Trial is working to ensure Tasmanian devils continue to survive outside captivity.

Teams are learning the bestmethods to translocate devils back to the wild.

Dr Pemberton said a wild population of devilsis important for two reasons: genetic diversity and ecosystem impact.

Ensuring genetic diversity in devils is vital in avoiding in-breeding and giving the animals the best chance of success.

We cant eradicate [DFTD], evolution might. To give evolution a chance you want genetic diversity and you want numbers, with those two in tandem then who knows what can evolve, Dr Pemberton said.

The other key work of the trial is to reduce the impacts the loss of devils has on the entire ecosystem.

The loss of such a large chunk of the devil population affects much morethan just the animals themselves, it has ripple effects right down the chain.

Such an example is the brush-tailed possum, a favourite food of devils, which has seen population booms following devil decline.

Where once possums in the open werevulnerable to attack, Dr Pemberton said in recent times he has gone into a paddock and seen a possum on every fence post.

The simplest way to treatthat conundrum and that problem is to get [devil] numbers back up in the wild and let devils do what theyre designed to do.

The post-release monitoring of the devils has shown they are settling in well.

Each time devils are released, the team gathers important information about whichmethods secure the best results, and this has paid off in the most recent release.

White cylindrical traps are loaded on the back of a ute, the final preparations for the team heading out to check the monitoring traps.

With the slamming of doors and the growl of an engine they are off to see if they caught any devils overnight.

Just an hour later the call comes through, theyve got a devil at Cape Portland, 45 minutes away.

Tasmanian devils have an extensive range, they can travel up to 20 kilometres in a night, and tracking has shown many of the released devils have roamed far.

Just as people do, in their travels devils use roads as the most efficient means of getting from A to B, which puts them at risk of becoming road kill.

At key points along the road, small plastic boxes about the size of a glasses caseare fixed to posts. They arevirtual fences that emit a blue light and loud noise when car headlights land on them, warning devils about the oncoming traffic.

These have been overwhelmingly effective, with none of the recently released devils succumbing to roadkill so far.

At Cape Portland wildlife biologist Drew Lee workedwith Jodie Elmer to carefully transfer the caught devil into a brown hessian bag.

Mr Lee said they use the white tubular traps as they are less stressful for the animals than traditional wire traps.

The white traps are less stressful for devils than traditional wire traps.

They found devils in wire traps would try to bite their way out, often causing damage and even losing their teeth.

In contrast, devils are usually curled up asleep in the end of the modern traps, he said.

Mr Lee attacheda set of scales to the hessian bag, lifting it devil and all into the air.

Seven point zero kilograms, he read to Mrs Elmer who was takingnotes on a clipboard.

Sitting down Mr Lee placedthe bag on his lap, opening it just enough to reveal the top of the devils head.

It was a new devil to the team, not one they have released or trapped before. Thats exciting.

Mr Lee then took a blood sample for testing while he explained, The only way we can pick up a tumor is when we see it.

As DFTD doesnt ignite an immune response in the devilsthey are not able to test for this in the blood, making early detection difficult.

A microchip was then attached to the devil, so researchers know when they come across it again.

Next a pair of calipers were used to measure the devils head width, whichreveal its sex and age.

A check over of Osprey shows a devil in good health.

The prognosis is a one-year-old female.

Pulling her snout out of the bag a check of her teeth revealedan impressive set of ivory fangs bedded in pink gums.

Mr Lee then flippedher over, her spiky black tail poking out of the bag, and checkedher pouch for babies.

One, two, threefour, he countedout as he spottedthe little pink young.

Three little pouch young are discovered in Osprey's pouch.

Devils are able to reach sexual maturity in their first year, and their ability to breed while still so young is helping the species continue.

[Tasmanian devils] arepersisting ... they are tough and tenacious and they are breeding young and that's what's making this happen, Dr Pemberton said.

DFTDkills them, but some of the mums weantheir young before they die and those young breed.

Because they can breed young they are surviving in the wild.

All that was left was to name the young mum, theyre running with the theme of birds.

Osprey.

Devil populations have plummeted, here Save the Tasmanian Devil manager David Pemberton points out a devil den.

The check-up was a success; a young female devil with four babies (the maximum a devil can support) who was in excellent health.

Because theres such a surplus of food its a great place to be a devil out here, Mr Lee said.

Kneeling, Mr Lee openedthe bag. Osprey tooka few tentative steps out of the hessian sack before making a break for it.

Running into the bush, she was gone.

While the rise of DFTD has had a significant impact on Tasmanian devil populations, the evidence is they continue to persist.

This can in large part be credited to the work of an international team, who all work to improve our understanding of the disease, develop vaccines and create insurance populations.

People like the very dedicated Save the Tasmanian Devil team, who get up at 5am in the dark and cold to translocate devils to a new home and then spend weeks tirelessly monitoring their progress.

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Fighting for the Tasmanian devil: photos, video - Ararat Advertiser

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