A record 51 Tasmanian Devil joeys were born this season at Devil Ark, a free-range breeding facility aimed at saving this iconic Australian marsupial from extinction.
This brings the total number of joeys born at Devil Ark to more than 250 since it was founded in 2010 to establish an insurance population for the now-endangered Tasmanian Devil.
More than 90% of the wild Tasmanian Devil population has disappeared in the past 20 years due to an aggressive, transmissible cancer called Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD). The Australian island state of Tasmania is the only wild home of these unique creatures.
Tasmanian Devils are marsupials, so like all marsupials, the jellybean-sized babies are born in a very underdeveloped state. About 30-50 are born, and they must crawl from the birth canal into their mother’s pouch immediately - a distance of about three inches. But female Devils have only four teats, so only the first four to attach to a teat will survive. The babies remain attached to a teat constantly for about three months. When they emerge from the pouch, they will ride on mom’s back.
The Devils at Devil Ark are one of dozens insurance populations in Australia and at zoos around the world. DFTD is a fatal condition and has spread rapidly across Tasmania, driving the need for disease-free, genetically diverse populations as possibly the only way to save Devils from extinction.
DFTD is one of only four known naturally occurring transmissible cancers. It is transmitted like a contagious disease through biting and close contact, which occurs when wild Tasmanian Devils feed in groups, battling for access to a carcass. Devils develop large facial tumors which make eating difficult. Affected animals die from starvation.
Tasmania Devils play a vital role in Tasmania’s ecosystems by scavenging on dead animals. They are listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Researchers are working to better understand DFTD, which was only identified in 1996.