The Minnesota Zoo connects people, animals and the natural world to save wildlife. One we we do that is through a special staff grant program using private funds to let Zoo staff pick wildlife conservation programs that are meaningful to them to support. Zoomobile’s Amanda Drews recently traveled to Tasmania to help support the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program. Read more about her experience below.
The crew from the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program picked me up bright and early in Hobart my first day so we could catch the ferry to Maria Island, a safe haven for Tasmanian devils free from the devastating devil facial tumor disease (DFTD). The disease is a transmissible cancer that is spread between devils when they bite each other. Biting is a way the devils normally communicate but once a devil has DFTD, the tumors take over its face and body and kill the devil within the year. Our goal on the island was to catch as many devils as we could, do health checks on them and identify new devils. We also gave certain females who are over- represented genetically in that population a contraceptive for that breeding season. A narrow gene pool is a factor in why DFTD has wiped out so many devils in the first place. Their bodies don’t recognize the invading cells as foreign, so the hope is the bigger the gene pool, the better the devils will be able to combat DFTD as well as other diseases.
Our devil team was led by biologists Phil (a real life crocodile “hunter”) and Drew (a well caffeinated world traveler). The other interns I worked with were college student Emma and Ph.D student Elspeth. In between making fun of each other’s accents and drinking lots of tea and coffee, we used GPS to locate dozens of PVC tube live traps and set them with bait in hopes of catching some devils overnight.
Every morning at exactly 5:15 AM, the kookaburras would wake us up. As we were getting ready for the day, kangaroos, wallabies, pademelons and wombats would leisurely wander past (or sometimes right through!) our campsite. When we caught a devil, we would do a full exam on it and gave a contraceptive implant or microchip if needed. We did find some young ones and those devils without names were named after national parks. I chose Voyageur and Glacier for two youngsters. They are such amazing little critters!
At the end of our time on the island, Phil and Drew gave a presentation for the families camping there. We want both locals and tourists to know how important the devils are so they don’t face the same fate as the now extinct Tasmanian tiger. A small group of these campers even got to tag along the next morning when we did our last releases. What lucky timing for them! All together we caught 67 devils on the island and gave contraception to all 10 that we set out to do. A pretty successful week for the Tasmanian Devil Team! Now they have a better idea of how many devils to relocate from the island to the mainland of Tasmania in the upcoming year.
Read more about Amanda’s adventure in Part 2- Working with Captive Tasmanian Devils.