Delightful Tasmanian Devils

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Tasmanian devil Nick gets eye to eye with our photographer.

Tasmanian devil Nick gets eye to eye with our photographer.

They didn’t scream or spin around like whirling dervishes, but I found them exciting just the same as this morning we proudly unveiled the exhibit area for our new Tasmanian devils (see post Introducing our Devils). What a wonderful addition they make to the San Diego Zoo’s Australian Outback! Each of our four devils has his or her own enclosure, as these are solitary animals in the wild. Guests can view three of the enclosures, and right now, that’s where the three males—Conrad, Nick, and Jake—live. A fourth enclosure is further back and much more private, and that’s where our female, Debbie, resides at present. We are currently the only zoo in North America to have these interesting animals, and we hope to share their conservation story with our guests.

Dignitaries representing Australia and its island state of Tasmania, which is where Tasmanian devils hail from, spoke at the opening ceremony. The Honorable Brian Wightman MP, minister for environment, parks, and heritage in Tasmania, related that wild devil populations have dropped dramatically due to a deadly cancer called devil facial tumor disease. Tasmania has already lost a valuable animal, the Tasmanian tiger or thylacine, to disease and human encroachment, and Mr. Wightman said his state is determined to keep from losing another native carnivore by working with global partners. San Diego Zoo Global is a proud partner of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, which is based in Tasmania. Karen Lanyon, consul-general for the Australian consulate general, mentioned that the links between our zoo and her country are “getting stronger,” and she welcomed the devils to “her patch” of southern California. She told me later that the devils’ new home was “gorgeous!”

Alistair Scott, the general manager of resource management and conservation for the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment in Tasmania, admitted that Tasmanians “like to do things ourselves,” but as the devil facial tumor disease has worked its way across the state, asking for help from global partners is the right thing to do. Here’s more information on the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program

For now, our keepers are pleased that the four devils are settling in nicely to their new home and are coping well with their first look at Zoo guests. Their enclosures are filled with soft mulch for the digging activities devils crave, as well as a variety of bushes and ferns, which provide cover for the animals if wanted. What’s really neat are the dens attached to two of the enclosures: when a devil goes inside the cozy den, guests can get up nice and close for some eye-to-eye views, courtesy of the glass panels.

I learned that Jake likes to pull out newly planted vegetation and bring it into his den, which is fun for us to watch but will keep our horticulture staff busy! Nick, apparently, is the most active of the devils and seems to be a people-watcher. During the ceremony, I could see him on his hind legs in his glass-walled den, looking on with great interest! With his mouth, Conrad grabbed a large cow knuckle bone, which had to be heavy, as if it were a breakfast pastry and took off with it to parts unknown. Mr. Wightman told me that listening to devils crunch on bones is a sound you never forget! Debbie (love that name!) is the timid and shy devil of the group, yet she and Jake can see each other through a glass panel separating their enclosures, and keepers told me that both animals seem to enjoy this visual enrichment.

How will you know “who is who” when you come to welcome them? Each enclosure has a sign with the devil’s name and a bit about its personality. I was smitten with these animated animals. I hope you will be, too!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, The Scoop on Panda Poop.