Twenty Tasmanian devils were released into Narawntapu National Park in northern Tasmania on September 26, each inoculated with a new vaccine against a deadly disease that has decimated the endangered species.
The animals (11 males and 9 females) received a vaccine against devil facial tumor disease, a condition that causes cancers to form around and inside the devil’s mouth, making eating difficult and ultimately causing death by starvation.
The disease is rare in that it’s a contagious cancer — spread by bites among the devils or through sharing food or eating an infected carcass.
Thanks to the disease, Tasmanian devil populations have declined by more than 60 percent in the last 10 years, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “red list” of endangered species.
Should Tasmanian Devils Be Returned To Mainland Australia?
The release was carried out under the aegis of an initiative called the Wild Devil Recovery Project, a Tasmanian government-funded joint effort between the Menzies Institute for Medical Research and the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program (STDP).
The newly wild devils, formerly kept at a free-range enclosure site for “insurance” populations, will join existing devils already living in the park, and they will be monitored over time to gauge the vaccine’s effectiveness.
The hope is that the re-wilding program will not only boost the devil populations but also increase their genetic diversity.
“The next milestone will be to see them start breeding in the wild and thus further ensuring their chances of survival into the future,” said Bob Wiese, director of living collections for San Diego Zoo Global, an STDP partner in Tasmania, in a press release.