Save the Tasmanian Devil Program October 2009

The Tasmanian Conservation Trust is represented on the Tasmanian Devil Program Stakeholder Reference Group. This is our prime means of obtaining information about the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program (STDP) and providing advice or asking questions. Unfortunately, the Stakeholder Reference Group has not met since November 2008 and our attempts to instigate a meeting of this group have been unsuccessful.

In the absence committee meetings, we rely only on information that is on the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) website. This has raised more questions than it answers and leaves us very worried about the state of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, in particular whether an effective insurance population will ever be established.

We have written to the STDP Manager with the following questions and concerns.

Strategic plan

The DPIPWE website contains a very brief Strategic Plan for the STDP and the TCT cannot locate any more detailed documents. The plan refers to a statutory Tasmanian Devil Recovery Plan under ‘Principles’ but does not actually recommend a recovery plan be developed. 

u Has a detailed strategic plan or recovery plan been drafted or developed for the STDP and, if not, is it the intention of the STDP to develop one?


The Stakeholder Reference Group has not met since November 2008 and between these meetings there has been no effective communication from the STDP. The TCT disagrees with the claim on the DPIPWE website that the Stakeholder Reference Group assists with providing ‘proper scrutiny’ of the program.

u Will the Stakeholder Reference Group continue and, if not, what is proposed as the replacement to communicate and consult with the TCT and other stakeholders?


u Based on current progress and the experience from other comparable wildlife vaccine programs, what is the likely timeframe for development of an effective vaccine for the Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD)?

Suppressing DFTD

There appears to be little publicly available information detailing actions taken and actual success of suppressing DFTD in the wild.

u What actions have been taken to actively suppress the DFTD in the wild devil population and how successful have these been?

Resistant genomes

u If resistant genomes are identified in the wild devil population, what strategies will be used to favour the persistence of those genomes?

Insurance population

From 2005 to 2009 a large number of healthy devils have been taken by the STDP from the wild and placed in zoos and wildlife parks to establish an insurance population. The DPIPWE website says that in February 2009 the insurance population had grown to 145 disease-free devils. The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program: Insurance Population Strategy says that 500 breeding devils will be required for the insurance population and to be assured of maintaining this number over a period of many years 1500 devils would need to be maintained in captivity.

Given the rapid spread of the DFTD and the likely extinction of the Tasmanian devil in the wild, an insurance population is crucial to saving the species. Given the importance and urgency of having an insurance population, we have a large number of questions regarding the progress of the Insurance Population Strategy.

u When does the STDP aim to achieve the insurance population of 500 breeding devils and 1500 devils in total, and is the STDP on target to achieve this?

u For how many more years can the STDP expect to continue to collect disease-free devils from the wild?

u We understand that it has been demonstrated that devil mothers do not pass the DFTD onto their young. If this is true, should the Insurance Population Strategy be revised to focus on trapping pregnant mothers and extracting their healthy young, from around the state rather than just the west coast, therefore provide a wider genetic variation?

u The DPIPWE website states that the insurance population had grown to 145 disease-free devils by February 2009, but this does not tell us how many are of breeding age or the genetic diversity of the animals.

u Are any virtual or actual islands still being looked at as part of the insurance population strategy? If not, why?

Peter McGlone