The First Translocation of Devils on Maria Island
After three years of careful planning and preparation under the Maria Island Translocation Project, the first successful release of 15 healthy devils took place on Wednesday 14 November 2012. The devils stepped free into the wild for the first time – amidst the safe haven of Maria Island National Park – protected from the lethal Devil Facial Tumour Disease.
The hope is that these animals will prosper in the natural habitat of the island and establish a self-sustaining population. This will strengthen the insurance population of Tasmanian devils, providing a source of animals for future reintroductions on the Tasmanian mainland and help ensure the species’ survival in the wild.
The release marks a significant milestone for the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, being the first for several projects – landscape isolation and island translocations – aimed at maintaining healthy devils in the wild. It was a significant day for all who have been involved in the Translocation Project, including staff from the Program and Parks and Wildlife Service, as well as others from the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.
The 15 healthy animals were selected out of over 500 devils in the insurance population based on their genetic stock and behaviour, as well as their age, sex and breeding status. They could not be too closely related and provide the best breeding potential. Hence the majority were young, one to two year old devils of both sexes but there were several three to four year old males because female devils prefer to mate with older males. Seven came from the Program’s captive management facility at Taroona, while the others came from the Tasmanian Free Range Enclosures – five from Freycinet and three from Bridport.
In the preceding month, the selected devils underwent behavioural tests (to ensure their tendency to avoid humans) and were checked for pathogens and diseases. Five of the devils were also fitted with radio tracking collars so that the devil’s movement can be monitored remotely in the first few months after their release. In the week prior to their introduction to the Island, the selected devils had been given a special diet to eliminate internal parasites. They were also given a final health and biosecurity check on the morning of the release.
The animals were transported in cylindrical plastic containers via open-backed vehicles and boat to the remote release site on Maria Island. They were grouped separately for the release according to their captive origin so as to provide a degree of familiarity and to help reduce stress immediately after they were set free. All were allowed to leave the containers at their own will, undisturbed by humans. While most left quickly, a few remained in their containers for longer; staying hidden and motionless until evening. A few were spotted post release, rambling through the bracken and undergrowth, familiarising themselves with their new environment.
The establishment of the population on Maria Island will be the subject of ongoing monitoring by the Program in coming months. Information regarding their distribution and use of habitat, as well as individual health and breeding status will be collected via trapping, visual observations, remote cameras and radio-tracking. This will help inform decisions regarding subsequent devil releases, which are being planned for next year.
Photo: First steps to freedom on Maria Island (Courtesy - Simon de Salis, DPIPWE)