Biodiversity

Species Profile and Threats Database


For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
 
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Endangered
Listing and Conservation Advices Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Sarcophilus harrisii (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2009q) [Conservation Advice].
 
Commonwealth Listing Advice on Sarcophilus harrisii (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2009r) [Listing Advice].
 
Recovery Plan Decision Recovery Plan required, included on the Commenced List (1/11/2009).
 
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Policy Statements and Guidelines Survey guidelines for Australia's threatened mammals. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.5 (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2011j) [Admin Guideline].
 
Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) - EPBC Policy Statement 3.6 (Department of the Environment and Heritage (AGDEH), 2006h) [Admin Guideline].
 
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Inclusion of species in the list of threatened species under section 178 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (40) (04/05/2006) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2006l) [Legislative Instrument].
 
Inclusion of species in the list of threatened species under section 178 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (83) (19/05/2009) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2009m) [Legislative Instrument].
 
State Government
    Documents and Websites
TAS:Tasmanian Devil (Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (TAS DIPWE), 2009l) [Internet].
TAS:Sarcophilus harrisii (Tasmanian Devil): Species Management Profile for Tasmania's Threatened Species Link (Threatened Species Section (TSS), 2014tq) [State Action Plan].
State Listing Status
TAS: Listed as Endangered (Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 (Tasmania): September 2012 list)
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Endangered (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
Scientific name Sarcophilus harrisii [299]
Family Dasyuridae:Polyprotodonta:Mammalia:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Boitard, 1841)
Infraspecies author  
Reference  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Sarcophilus harrisii

Common name: Tasmanian Devil

Other names: Sarcophilus laniarius has also been used recently in light of comparisons between a fossil specimen named S. laniarius, named prior to the naming of S. harrisii, and the extant species (Werdelin 1987).

The world's largest extant marsupial carnivore, the Tasmanian Devil typically weighs 7.7–13.0 kg (males) or 4.5–9 kg (females) (Jones 2001; Jones et al. 2007), having a black coat with variable patches of white on the chest, shoulder and rump, and a stocky frame with fore legs longer than hind legs. Adult size is reached at two years of age. This nocturnal hunter and scavenger is solitary but non-territorial, so that several Tasmanian Devils may feed non-cooperatively at a single carcass (Pemberton & Renouf 1993).

The Tasmanian Devil is found throughout Tasmania apart from the offshore islands. Tasmanian Devils were introduced to Badger Island in the mid 1990s, but as of September 2005 Tasmanian Devils were thought to be absent from this island. Hair-tubing and public surveys indicate densities are extremely low in the south-west, and highest in the dry and mixed sclerophyll forests and coastal heath of Tasmania's eastern half and north-west coast (Jones & Rose 1996). Jones and Rose (1996) related statewide survey results to environmental and climatic features, generating a CORTEX spatial model predicting distribution and relative densities across the state. Findings from mark-recapture trapping surveys and other trapping work by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment (DPIWE) Devil Disease Project Team broadly support these predictions. An exception is the north eastern region, where marked population declines have been detected, in association with the earliest reports of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) (Hawkins et al. 2006), subsequent to the time of the Jones and Rose survey.

Tasmanian Devil distribution map including location of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD)

The Tasmanian Devil is now endemic to Tasmania. The species disappeared from the Australian mainland approximately 400 years ago, possibly through competition with dingos and increasing aridity (Archer & Baynes 1972; Guiler 1982; Tas DPIWE 2008a).

Hawkins and colleagues (2006) analysed Tasmanian Devil sightings along each 10 km spotlighting route surveyed annually across different areas of Tasmania since the first reports of DFTD (Driessen & Hocking 1992; Hocking & Driessen 1992). The sharpest declines in sightings were apparent from spotlighting data in the roughly 24 000 km² area of eastern Tasmania across which DFTD symptoms were reported prior to 2003. If declines continue at the current rate, the data indicates that Tasmanian Devils are likely to be absent from this area in by 2016. On this basis, the extent of occurrence could contract 24 000 km², ie to 40 000 km² or less by 2016. In a worse-case scenario, it is conceivable that similar declines might develop across the entire 36 000 km² area currently known to be carrying disease, leading to a contraction in the extent of occurrence from 64 030 km² to 28 000 km². In both cases, the area where the disease has been reported is likely to be an underestimate of the true area where it was present at the time.

It is, however, important to recognise that no local extinctions have yet been identified, even in the area (Mount William) where DTFD is believed to have been present longest.

The distribution of the species is effectively continuous across mainland Tasmania, so that the area of occupancy is the same as the extent of occurrence, that is 64 030 km² (Jones & Rose 1996; Tas DPIWE 2005). There is no evidence to indicate significant recent changes in the area of occupancy. However, the area of occupancy could contract to 40 000 km² or less by 2016 if DFTD persists.

Captive Populations:

  • Wildlife parks and zoos (Tasmania). Current populations of Tasmanian Devils in Tasmanian wildlife parks have relatively good genetic diversity if managed effectively (n = ~30 founders). Populations are held at eight wildlife parks around the state (n = ~100). Maintaining health and diversity is a priority. Disease has now been confirmed within the Tasmanian wildlife park holding the largest number of Tasmanian Devils.
  • Wildlife parks and zoos (Australian mainland). Prior to December 2006, the zoo population held on the Australian mainland (n=35) had low diversity and was considered 'demographically extinct'. All these Tasmanian Devils were from the eastern/southwestern management unit. The export of a further 46 individuals from DPIW's quarantined captive insurance population began in December 2006. Tasmanian Devils are now held in 17 zoos on the Australian mainland, in every state apart from the Northern Territory.
  • Insurance groups. DPIW's insurance population recently completed a minimum quarantine period of 18 months, during which DFTD was not identified in any individual. Export of the population to the mainland began in December 2006. This population is particularly important, having been subjected to a suite of rigorous disease risk reduction strategies. It includes founders sourced to represent north-western (n=13) and eastern/south-western (n=13) management units.
  • Research groups. Experimental DPIW populations are being managed in Tasmania for infective and immunological studies.

As at December 2006, the only Tasmanian Devils held outside Australia are four individuals housed at Copenhagen Zoo, Denmark.

There are two major issues relating to the successful maintenance of the species in captivity. One concerns the relatively low genetic diversity (minimal founders) within the captive population. Second, the species' short life-span affords minimal opportunities for reproduction with adults reaching sexual maturity at two years of age and dying at five, thus leaving only three years for reproduction.

The successful retention of numbers and diversity will depend on improved captive management techniques, as past breeding records are inconsistent and poor for most institutes. An increased effort and the application of new knowledge on the species' reproductive biology should improve breeding potential to a level that will create a sustainable population, as outlined in ASMP/DPIWE plan (Lees 2005).

There is potential for future introduction of Tasmanian Devils onto several offshore islands (including Maria Island) following a full impact assessment (AUSVET 2005).

Tasmanian Devils are found throughout Tasmania, however Jones and colleagues (2004) identified genetic differentiation at the subpopulation level within the species' distribution.


Tasmanian Devils have been trapped at many sites across Tasmania. Sites at which absolute densities were assessed include (Hawkins et al. 2006; Pemberton 1990):

  • Mount William National Park (north-east coast)
  • Freycinet National Park (east coast)
  • Bronte Park (central highlands)
  • Woolnorth (north west coast)
  • Granville Harbour (west coast)
  • Milkshake Hills (north west inland)
  • Surrey Hills (north coast)
  • Fentonbury (central highlands)
  • Dry Poles Lane (central highlands).


    Additionally, a statewide distribution survey in 1996 (Jones & Rose 1996) using hair tubing and public surveys, and statewide spotlighting surveys from 1985 to the present (Driessen & Hocking 1992; Hawkins et al. 2006; Hocking & Driessen 1992) covering areas of Tasmania with roads gave a larger scale picture of Tasmanian Devil distribution.

    Therefore, reliable estimates of population and distribution exist from a range of sites across Tasmania, together with some indication of how representative these are across the less intensively trapped parts of Tasmania. It must nonetheless be stressed that the potential error in extrapolating from these estimates remains high. The population estimate at each trapping site incorporated typical 95% confidence intervals of +/-c. 25%. The presence of DFTD means that numbers are declining swiftly. Also, density varies widely across Tasmania, so that a single site can affect this estimate unrealistically.

  • In the mid 1990s the total population estimate was 130 000–150 000 individuals (TSSC 2006c). Spotlighting data (Hawkins et al. 2006) indicated an overall population decline of 27% from the mid 1990s to 2001–2003. If this equation is applied to the mid 1990s population estimates, the 2002 population size would have been an estimated 51 000 mature individuals. The potential error in this estimate is high, however the population estimate at each trapping site incorporated 95% confidence intervals of +/-c. 25%. A standard buffer was placed around each trap site to calculate the area from which Tasmanian Devils are trapped during a survey, and this area varies between sites, thus affecting density calculations.

    Another method generated an estimated total population size of 21 000 mature individuals in 2004 (C. Hawkins, pers. comm. 2006). This estimate was derived from density estimates from ten sites (four disease-free sites, six diseased sites) in the highest density areas (north-east and south-east of the state) and from one disease free site outside the high density area.

    The best estimate of total population size based on current evidence thus lies within the range of 20–50 000 mature individuals.

    Two management units have been identified: devils in north-western Tasmania are genetically distinct from those found across the rest of the State (Farmer 2006; Jones et al. 2004).

    North-western.
    Jones and colleagues (2004) identified a genetically distinct management unit in north-west Tasmania, across approximately 13 400 km², west of the Forth River and south to Macquarie Heads (Farmer 2006). This region encompasses four sites intensively surveyed by the Devil Disease Team since 2004, and one surveyed by Hawkins (unpubl. data) in 2003. One of the Devil Disease Team sites, Woolnorth, holds the highest population density of Tasmanian Devils found in any of the Team's surveys, which is more than double that at the other sites. Extrapolating from the resulting density estimates, this management unit may currently consist of between 3000 and 12 500 mature individuals.

    Eastern/South-western.
    The remaining 50 630 km² area covers nine sites surveyed by the Devil Disease Project Team since 2004. The mean of the density estimates for each of these sites applied to this area (separating high and low density areas as described above) indicates an approximate population size of 12 000–37 500 mature individuals.

    The general population trend for the entire species is a decline (Hawkins et al. 2006; Tas DPIWE 2005).

    Mean spotlighting sightings of Tasmanian Devils per 10 km route, obtained from routes across the core Tasmanian Devil range (south-eastern and north-eastern Tasmania), declined by 41% from 1992–1995 to 2002–2005 (Hawkins et al. 2006). DFTD-like symptoms were first reported in 1996. In December 2008, DFTD occurred across more than 60% of Tasmania, and has been found at 64 locations (Tas DPIW 2008b).

    Long term spotlighting data and widespread trapping suggests that DFTD is a widespread disease, clearly associated with local population declines of up to 80% since first being reported in 1996 (Hawkins et al. 2006). The currently affected region covers the majority of the high density eastern management unit, or approximately 65% of the total population.

    While DFTD is associated with marked local declines (Hawkins et al. 2006), no local extinctions have yet been identified. The sharpest declines were seen in areas which were formerly high density. The majority of infectious diseases are density dependent and so do not typically persist or threaten low density populations in the absence of a reservoir species or other severe threats. DFTD has not been identified in any other species.

    DFTD has a number of unique features and its future impact cannot yet be predicted with confidence. Biting, a likely form of transmission, most commonly occurs during the mating season (Hamede 2004). Mating interactions - and therefore transmission rate - may not be density dependent.

    A reconstruction of the abundance of Tasmanian Devils since 1800 based on anecdotal evidence found two extreme population declines and increases during this period (Bradshaw & Brook 2005). However, the hypothesised fluctuations can easily be linked to human activities (Owen & Pemberton 2005). The first decline coincides with the issue of agricultural bounties and the second occurred during widespread poison use in Tasmania (for example strychnine, which remains potent in carcasses and impacts on scavengers) (M. Jones 2006, pers. comm.).

    Guiler's (1978b, 1982) long term study (1966–1978) found Tasmanian Devil numbers at Granville Harbour (west coast) fluctuated by almost an order of magnitude for unidentifiable reasons. Guiler suggested that food availability drove these fluctuations. Furthermore, the low genetic diversity found by Jones and colleagues (2004) suggests that there may have been previous marked drops in population numbers. It is thought that Tasmanian Devil population size in pre-European times was lower than present day. Data indicates that typical densities in suitable unmodified habitats are 0.3–0.7 individuals per km², and that half of Tasmania (64 030 km²) comprised suitable Tasmanian Devil habitat (Jones & Rose 1996; Jones et al. 2004). This suggests a pre-European population of approximately 17 500 mature individuals. This figure is similar to the current estimate of 21 000 mature individuals and substantially lower than estimates made using the same methods in the mid 1990s of 65 000 mature individuals (Jones et al. 2004).

    Toothwear and general appearance indicate that Tasmanian Devil generation length is three years. Female parents were identified through their pouch young, while data on generation length for both sexes was obtained in captivity (Pemberton 1990).

    No one wild population can be identified as more necessary than another for the long-term survival of the species, especially since the Tasmanian Devil population is not clearly delineated into different populations. However, maintenance of both genetically distinct management units is likely to be important to maintain genetic diversity.

    Tasmanian Devils are found throughout Tasmania, in all native habitats, as well as in forestry plantations and pasture, from sea level to all but the highest peaks of Tasmania (Jones & Barmuta 2000; Jones & Rose 1996). Densities are lowest in the buttongrass plains of the south-west and highest in the dry and mixed sclerophyll forests and coastal heath of Tasmania's eastern half and north-west coast.

    Open forests and woodlands are preferred, while tall or dense wet forests are avoided (Jones & Barmuta 2000; Jones & Rose 1996). The highest population densities are found in mixed patches of grazing land and forest or woodland. Relative trapping success and spool-and-line tracking indicates that Tasmanian Devils travel through lowlands, saddles and along creeks, avoiding steep slopes and rocky areas, and favouring predictably rich sources of food such as carcasses, rubbish dumps, and roads (Jones & Barmuta 2000).

    Dens are typically underground burrows (such as old wombat burrows), dense riparian vegetation, thick grass tussocks and caves. Adults are thought to remain faithful to their dens for life so den disturbance is destabilising to populations (Owen & Pemberton 2005).
    The Tasmanian Devil is not part of, nor does it rely on any listed threatened ecological community. The species is directly associated with an invertebrate, Dasyurotaenia robusta, which is currently listed as Rare under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995. This invertebrate is a tapeworm found only in Tasmanian Devils.

    The majority of individuals mature at two years old, however 5–10% of females typically mature at one year (Guiler 1970b; Hughes 1982; Pemberton 1990). Longevity in the wild is 5–6 years (Guiler 1978b; Jones 2001; Jones et al. 2007). The sum effect of mortality and emigration at Mount William (pre-disease) was estimated as 80% between the first and second year, followed by 20% in subsequent years (Pemberton 1990).

    The Tasmanian Devil is promiscuous and breeds once a year between February and June (TSSC 2006c). In earlier studies the mating season was found to occur over a much shorter period, primarily during February-March (Guiler 1970b; M. Jones 2006, pers. comm.).

    Reproductive success is high in wild, non-diseased populations, with nearly all females of breeding age (2–4) bringing the full complement (n = 4) of pouched young through to weaning (Pemberton 1990). The success rate of weaned individuals reaching maturity is unknown.

    Tasmanian Devils are thought to breed and raise their young in dens (Owen & Pemberton 2005). Increased contact between individuals during the breeding season results in higher injury rates as a result of intra/inter-sexual aggression. DFTD is thought most likely to be transmitted between Tasmanian Devils through biting (AUSVET 2005), therefore this is a time of higher potential for disease spread.

    The Tasmanian Devil is considered to be an opportunistic predator and specialised scavenger. It will eat the carcasses of a range of vertebrates, but mostly possums and macropods (Guiler 1970a; Jones 2003; Jones & Barmuta 2000; Owen & Pemberton 2005). Tasmanian Devils hunt by a combination of ambush and short pursuits. The Tasmanian Devil tends to hunt down slow prey such as wombats or sick wallabies or lambs, however, they have the capacity for high speed pursuits (Jones 2003; Owen & Pemberton 2005). These features enable the Tasmanian Devil to actively hunt the possums, macropods and wombats so frequently found in its scats (Jones & Barmuta 2000).

    Tasmanian Devils are primarily solitary hunters (Owen & Pemberton 2005). Carcasses are taken opportunistically, and areas where lambing, calving or wallaby shooting are in progress will be favoured during these activities.

    Their scavenging diet makes Tasmanian Devils vulnerable in several ways:

    • As a source of carcasses, roads attract Tasmanian Devils and put the Tasmanian Devils at risk of becoming roadkill themselves.
    • Rubbish bins attract Tasmanian Devils and those with steep sides can trap Tasmanian Devils (M. Jones, pers. comm. 2006).
    • In the past, long-acting poisons (most commonly, strychnine) would endure to poison the Tasmanian Devils eating the carcasses.
    • Cannibalism is considered fairly common in Tasmanian Devils and renders the species particularly vulnerable to disease transmission (M. Jones 2006, pers. comm.; Pfennig et al. 1998). However, the modes of transmission of DFTD are not yet known.

    Devils are primarily nocturnal. There is no data to suggest seasonal changes in patterns of movement, apart from reduced activity of females with young in their dens (Pemberton 1990). Tasmanian Devils occupy several different dens, changing dens every 1–3 days, and travelling an average nightly distance of 8.6 km (Pemberton 1990). However, individuals have occasionally been observed to move up to 50 km in a single night (M. Jones, pers. comm. 2006).

    Home ranges overlap considerably. A typical home range across a two to four week period is estimated to be 13 km², ranging from 4–27 km² (Pemberton 1990).

    A Tasmanian Devil cannot easily be mistaken for any other species in Tasmania. It is rarely seen alive during the day time, but may be observed near carcasses at night.

    Methods to detect Tasmanian Devils include trapping, scat counting, photo-trapping, sand pad tracking, spotlighting, hair tubing, public surveys, and carcass observation. There is limited information available on the relative benefits of carrying these methods out at particular times or intensities.

    To initially detect the presence of Tasmanian Devils, a scat search is preferable. Grey, cylindrical scats of 10–20 cm long, may be found during a simple walk by road or creek if Tasmanian Devils are present. The grey colour (from digested bone) and large bone fragments within the fine fur are diagnostic of this species.

    Trapping is the most commonly used method for population density and other intensive surveys. This is most effective if traps are placed a maximum of 2 km apart (if seeking to trap the majority of animals present) and in favourable sites such as saddles, crossroads, creek crossings and the meeting of other linear features in relatively low-lying areas. Latrines also serve as good indicators of favourable sites (M. Jones 2006, pers. comm.; N. Mooney 2006, pers. comm.). Guiler (1982) found trapping success to be maximised if carried out in 3–4 night bursts, to obtain a realistic picture of animal presence.

    The Devil Disease Project Team surveys Tasmanian Devils using 40 traps across 25 km². The trap used is made of PVC UV-resistant storm water pipe, to reduce both risk of injury and temperature fluctuations. It is also very easy to clean and disinfect - essential in the face of current knowledge of DFTD. Any kind of meat will serve as bait, and a drag of smelly meat, or spray of fish oil, across the path towards the trap is likely to help attract the attention of the Tasmanian Devil.

    Annual spotlighting surveys along 10 km routes have provided valuable data on population trends in different regions (Driessen & Hocking 1992; Hawkins et al. 2006).

    DFTD
    Current evidence suggests that Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) is an infectious, spreading cancer, so that any attempt to delineate boundaries between affected and unaffected locations is likely to be outdated swiftly.

    DFTD is a widespread disease, associated with local population declines of up to 80% since first reported (Hawkins et al. 2006). These population declines are indicated by long term spotlighting data, as well as widespread trapping and laboratory results. Declines were most marked in areas where the disease had been reported earliest, in north-eastern and central eastern Tasmania.

    Mean spotlighting sightings of Tasmanian Devils per 10 km route, obtained from across the core Tasmanian Devil range (eastern and north-western Tasmania), have declined by 41% since the first report of DFTD-like symptoms in 1996 (Hawkins et al. 2006).

    The most immediately threatened location is thought to be the region where DFTD was reported prior to 2003: across 15 000 km² of eastern Tasmania. By 2005, the Devil Disease Project Team had confirmed DFTD in individuals found across 36 000 km² of eastern and central Tasmania (Hawkins et al. 2006).

    DFTD has been confirmed across 51% of Tasmania, and there is evidence for continued geographical spread of the disease (Hawkins et al. 2006). The currently affected region covers the majority of the high density eastern management unit, involving perhaps around 65% of the total population.

    Roadkill
    A recent three year study of roadkill frequency on the main roads of Tasmania estimated 1700 Tasmanian Devils are killed on roads annually (Hobday & Minstrell 2006, pers. comm.). This suggests that 2–4% of the total Tasmanian Devil population are killed on roads (based on an estimated population of 20 000–50 000 mature individuals). The roaded parts of Tasmania closely match the core distribution area for Tasmanian Devils.

    Roadkill was attributed as the cause of up to 50% of Tasmanian Devil death during a recording period of 17 months at Cradle Mountain and Freycinet National Parks (Jones 2000; M. Jones 2006, pers. comm.).

    Future impact is likely to remain at the same level.

    Foxes
    There have been spasmodic, small scale introductions of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) into Tasmania since early European colonisation. Early incursions were sometimes efforts at acclimatisation and others for short-term hunting. More recently, there has been at least one accidental incursion (from a roll-on, roll-off ship in 1998). Hard evidence (confirmed scats, carcasses) of foxes has been found in the north-west and northern and southern midlands. Credible sighting reports have come from most of the eastern half of the State including the central highlands and the far north-west (Saunders et al. 2006), mostly areas where Tasmanian Devil populations are suppressed by DFTD.

    A commonly held view has been that the abundance of Tasmanian Devils has prevented fox establishment through competition for prey and predation on denned juveniles. Red foxes and Tasmanian Devils share preferences for den sites and habitat, and are of a similar size. Tasmanian Devils abundance is likely to slow, if not prevent, fox establishment.

    The current impacts of the red fox have been quantified, and it is unlikely that fox numbers are currently at a level to impose a measurable impact.

    A decline in Tasmanian Devil numbers may create a short to medium-term surplus of food, for example carrion, ideal for fox establishment. Beyond a direct effect on Tasmanian Devils and the ability of their populations to recover from DFTD, fox establishment may cause ecosystem disruptions through changes in other species - a feature of foxes on mainland Australia (eg Saunders et al. 1995) and something that might then also indirectly affect Tasmanian Devils.

    Persecution
    In the past, persecution of the Tasmanian Devil has been very high throughout settled parts of Tasmania, and is thought to have brought about very low numbers at times. In the 1990s, control permits were occasionally issued to individuals who were able to argue that Tasmanian Devils were pests (for example, killing chickens). Current persecution is much reduced, but can still be locally intense (N. Mooney 2006, pers. comm.).

    The Tasmanian Devil has been protected under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 since 2002, and is now listed as a Vulnerable species under the Australian Government Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. While the small amount of current persecution is likely to persist it is unlikely to constitute a major threat unless the Tasmanian Devil population becomes extremely small and fragmented.

    Low genetic diversity
    Jones and colleagues (2004) found the genetic diversity of Tasmanian Devils to be low relative to many Australian marsupials as well as placental carnivores. This was consistent with an island founder effect, but previous marked reductions in population size may also have played a role. Low genetic diversity can reduce population viability (Eldridge et al. 1999) and resistance to disease (Acevedo-Whitehouse et al. 2005). Low genetic diversity is also thought to be a contirbuting factor to the spread of DFTD (Woods et al. 2007).

    Disease management
    A Disease Management Strategy has been developed for DFTD. There are five aspects to the strategy (Tas DPIW 2005):

  • Field mapping and monitoring of the disease, and diagnostic research.
  • Quarantining populations of healthy Tasmanian Devils.
  • Conducting field trials of disease supression techniques.
  • Maintaining the biosecurity and genetic diversity of captive Tasmanian Devils.
  • Improving management of captive animals to increase breeding success.

    Captive management
    Disease-free Tasmanian Devils were taken into captivity in quarantine conditions by the DPIW Devil Disease Project, in order to maintain secure populations. Captive animals were taken from thoroughly surveyed sites where no Tasmanian Devils with DFTD symptoms were found, in both eastern/south-western and north-western sub-populations. The number of animals taken was calculated to represent the full genetic diversity of the current population. Only juveniles were taken, to further reduce the risk of any captive animals carrying DFTD, since DFTD symptoms are almost exclusive to adults (Hawkins et al. 2006). Quarantined enclosures were distant from wild Tasmanian Devils; either in urban environments or on offshore islands. The quarantined Devils are being placed into captive breeding programs (as of December 2006), now that their disease-free status has been confirmed during a minimum of 18 months quarantine. Jones and colleagues (2007) indicate that, given the rate of spread of DFTD, it will not be possible to collect disease-free Tasmanian Devils from the wild for use in captive breeding programs after 2009.

    A risk reduction document has been prepared by Tasmanian DPIW (2005b) and distributed to wildlife park operators and the zoological industry outlining biosecurity measures to maintain the health of current captive populations. These measures include adaptation of husbandry protocols to include use of footbaths, employ appropriate waste disposal principles or secure enclosures to prevent contact between wild and captive Tasmanian Devils. Actions have been moderately successful in terms of increasing biosecurity at existing wildlife parks. An intra-state movement guideline was established requiring special permits to transfer Tasmanian Devils between parks.

    Updates on the disease and additional information are regularly disseminated. Decontaminant (Virkon) supply and instructions have been made available to each park.

    Wild population management trial
    The Devil Disease Project has begun an adaptive management trial in an area where the disease appears to have arrived recently and prevalence is still low, and where movement of diseased Tasmanian Devils across a bridge and canal can be restricted. Diseased Tasmanian Devils are being removed from the peninsula population through intensive trapping, in the hope of reducing or extirpating the disease there and to learn more about possibilities of controlling DFTD elsewhere. Early analyses indicate that this work is slowing the progress of the disease.

    Vaccine
    DFTD is passed from one animal to another through allograft transmission. Biting during fights allows cells from the tumor of an infected devil to infect a new animal through wounds (Jones et al. 2007). Due to the lack of genetic diversity among Tasmanian Devils, the Devil's immune system does not recognise the cancer cells as foreign. This means that there is no immune respone against the cancer cells, allowing the diease to become established in the new host. This aspect of the disease has raised the possibillity of creating a vaccine that would prompt the Tasmanain Devil's immue system to recognise the cancer cells as foreign, thus slowing or stopping the spread of the disease (Woods et al. 2007).

  • Save the Tasmanian Devil Program site has a database of scientific research associated with the Tasmanian Devil and a search can be made for the fifty and more papers available in that database.

    Information relevant to the management of the Tasmanian Devil can be found in the Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease Response: Project Plan (Tas DPIWE 2005c), the Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease Management Strategy (Tas DPIWE 2005b) and the Captive Management Plan for Tasmanian Devils, Sarcophilus harrisii (Lees 2005).

    The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

    Threat Class Threatening Species References
    Agriculture and Aquaculture:Agriculture and Aquaculture:Land clearing, habitat fragmentation and/or habitat degradation Commonwealth Listing Advice on Sarcophilus harrisii (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2009r) [Listing Advice].
    Biological Resource Use:Hunting and Collecting Terrestrial Animals:illegal control Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Sarcophilus harrisii (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2009q) [Conservation Advice].
    Commonwealth Listing Advice on Sarcophilus harrisii (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2009r) [Listing Advice].
    Biological Resource Use:Logging and Wood Harvesting:Habitat loss, modification and degradation due to timber harvesting Commonwealth Listing Advice on Sarcophilus harrisii (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2009r) [Listing Advice].
    Climate Change and Severe Weather:Habitat Shifting and Alteration:Habitat loss, modification and/or degradation Commonwealth Listing Advice on Sarcophilus harrisii (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2009r) [Listing Advice].
    Climate Change and Severe Weather:Habitat Shifting and Alteration:Habitat modification, destruction and alteration due to changes in land use patterns Commonwealth Listing Advice on Sarcophilus harrisii (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2009r) [Listing Advice].
    Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Mechanical disturbance during construction, maintanance or recreational activities Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Sarcophilus harrisii (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2009q) [Conservation Advice].
    Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Vulpes vulpes (Red Fox, Fox) Commonwealth Conservation Advice on Sarcophilus harrisii (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2009q) [Conservation Advice].
    Commonwealth Listing Advice on Sarcophilus harrisii (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2009r) [Listing Advice].
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    This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

    Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Sarcophilus harrisii in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Wed, 23 Jul 2014 22:40:56 +1000.