In the first initiative of its kind, an American zoo is partnering with an Australian university to save the Tasmanian devil in the wild. San Diego Zoo Global and the University of Sydney have joined together in a unique collaboration designed to assist the rare marsupial through reintroduction and careful management of a disease-free population. Tasmanian devils have become increasingly threatened in the wild by the spread of a fatal cancer.
“These populations will be managed in a way that maintains all of the genetic diversity of the species away from the disease,” said Kathy Belov, professor of veterinary science at the University of Sydney. “Ultimately, the disease will wipe out devils in the wild, but these newly created disease-free populations will be used to re-populate the wild once it is safe to do so.”
An important part of the project will be the reintroduction of 50 devils onto Maria Island off the east coast of Tasmania. The group will be carefully managed much as they would in a zoo setting by selecting disease-free individuals and maintaining genetic diversity.
“The cancer is spread through physical contact of one Tasmanian devil with another and, unfortunately, no cure has been discovered,” said Bob Wiese, Ph.D, chief life sciences officer, San Diego Zoo Global. “By managing a genetically diverse population safe from the disease, we hope to save the species.”
The Tasmanian devil faces extinction in the wild within 25 years because of devil facial tumor disease, a disease that has already wiped out 85% of Tasmanian devils since 1996.
“To save this species we are combining our expertise,” said Belov. “To manage existing populations and to boost devil numbers, we will be using all the available tools, from GPS tracking to ‘microchipping’ and the latest genetic sequencing technology.”
The University of Sydney is well known for its leadership in the genetic sequencing of the devil. This expertise will be used to capture a snapshot of genetic variation in the devils being bred in zoos and breeding facilities. San Diego Zoo Global is contributing $500,000 to the project, including funding the employment of conservation geneticist Catherine Grueber at the University.
The other institutions collaborating in the Devil Tools and Tech project are the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program and the Zoo and Aquarium Association.
CONTACT: San Diego Zoo Global Public Relations, Christina Simmons, 619-685-3291 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Media Enquiries: University of Sydney, Verity Leatherdale: (02) 9351 4312, 0403 067 342 or