Lunch break at Devil ArkA dream came true last week when I took a guided tour of the Devil Ark and Aussie Ark facility on Barringtons high country between Scone and Gloucester.
Truly groundbreaking conservation biology is on show at the Reptile Park’s breeding outpost for some of ’s most threatened species.We saw and heard at close hand the progeny of a breeding program to save the Tasmanian devil, while they tore their kangaroo meat dinner apart.
Devils are extinct on the mainland and are close to extinction in Tasmania due to a transmissible and lethal facial tumour that is rapidly spreading from animal to animal. Despite their name, the Tassie devil is not an apex predator but more a scavenger, hence their preference is road kill when in the wild. Presumably the advent of the dingo cleared devils from the mainland about 3000 years ago. Tasmania has no such apex predators and plenty of roadkill. The breeding of disease-free devils at Devil Ark has been very successful, with about 300 animals born since the program started in 2011 with the arrival of 44 foundation disease-free devils.
The breeding program is highly regulated with genetic analysis as the basis of allocating mating couples to grow the genetic diversity of the population. Some of the Devil Ark animals have been released back into regions of Tasmania free of other devils. The program is understandably expensive and, despite about 3000 hectares being donated by the Packer family, the daily running costs are high. The best way to donate is to join a tour for $150 a person. The drive up from Gundy through Moonan Flat is exciting, and spectacular, as you pass from the parched farmlands to the alpine vegetation of snow gums, grass trees and lomandra.
Devil Ark has spawned Aussie Ark, with other threatened marsupials being bred for release. We saw the eastern quoll and soon there will be programs running for brown bandicoot, long-nosed poteroo, southern rufous bettong, and parma wallaby. Before we brought foxes and let our cats and dogs run wild these animals used to roam the Barrington Tops, but now they face extinction. These breeding programs grow insurance populations for our grandchildren.
Emeritus Professor Tim Roberts is from the School of Environmental and Life Sciences at the University of Newcastle