During the mid 1990s the Tasmanian devil population was estimated at between 130,000 and 150,000.
Now, perhaps as few as 20,000 remain.
Contrast this with the fox population of Australia, which is estimated at 7,200,000. That’s right…7.2 million foxes. That’s 99.72% more individual foxes than there are devils.
So if anybody thinks that by reintroducing the devil to the mainland is going to result in some sort of ‘environmental catastrophe’, where rogue devils take out the last remaining small native mammals on the mainland, I’ve got news for you; its just not going to happen.
What might happen is that the devil gains a safety net, away from the Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease, currently devastating devil numbers in Tasmania.
What might also happen is that devils may compete with foxes and cats, perhaps preying on the vast quantities of cubs and kittens currently infesting our mainland landscapes.
We may also give our native mammals a fighting chance to survive for a greater number of generations than some of our species are currently likely to persist for.
And to those cynics who consistently state that Tasmanian devils raised in captivity would have lost their inherent instinct and wild behaviour, recent experience on Maria Island, where devils were recently released as part of the ‘captive’ insurance population program, demonstrated a rapid reversion to wild behaviours. Some of the captive bred animals were held in small pens while others lived in free range enclosures before they were set free on Maria Island, leading to some differences in behaviour. There was a short-term difference in that the more intensively managed animals lost body weight at a higher rate than others, but I must add they all picked up after that,” David Pemberton, Manager of the Save the Devil Program said. “The more intensively managed animals also approached people, but I might add only on three occasions I know of. “They also approached the cameras we use to monitor with more often where there are feed stations, so there were subtle differences, but all these disappeared after a few months, and all devils reverted to wild behaviours probably as well as we could have imagine.”
Reintroducing the devil to mainland Australia may also just give us some breathing space until our scientists and political leaders finally commit to developing contraceptive vaccines that were in the final developmental stage at Australia’s own CSIRO during the late 1990s, however had their funding withdrawn during the Howard Government’s second term.
My hope is that the current wildlife managers in Australia begin to consider this proposal rationally, rather than relying on outdated wildlife protection legislation to guide wildlife management, or pressure from animal welfare lobbies, who have often hijacked the debate as it involves cats being preyed upon by our native animals for a change; rather than the other way around, of which most Australians seem far to accepting of.