Kia ora everyone, my name is Carina, and I am a Veterinary Technician at The Nest Te Kohanga at Wellington Zoo. Thanks to the Wellington Zoo Conservation Grant, I’m currently in Tasmania for three weeks working with one of our Conservation partners, the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.
The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program is the official response to the threat of extinction of the Tasmanian Devil, due to the Devil Facial Tumour Disease – a rare contagious viral cancer that has reduced wild Tasmanian Devil populations by about 80%. For the next couple of weeks, we’ll be out in the field assessing the health of the Woolnorth population of Tasmanian Devils. We’re going to be covering a 25 km² area, assessing the genetic diversity of this particular population, as well as the prevalence of Devil Facial Tumour Disease.
Woolnorth is a very rural place, tucked away in the far North-west corner of Tasmania. After taking an early morning flight from Wellington to Hobart, I was in for a very long drive up to Woolnorth. There wasn’t much time to settle in before we got to work. On day one, we set up 40 traps around the area. The traps are safe for the Tazzy Devils but are necessary to be able to get up close and monitor the individual health of some of the members of the Woolnorth population. Setting up traps involved cutting up some tasty pieces of lamb and hanging them from the roofs of the traps with string in the hopes that some hungry Devils will come snooping. The team tell me that we’re just as likely to entice some local quoll, a native marsupial only found in Tasmania.
Whilst on the road on day two, we took a small side trip to the Kanaook Baseline Air Pollution Station. Some of the cleanest air in the world passes through this station. Kanaook has been operating since 1976, and the team took us on a tour of the facilities to tell us all about its fascinating history. The station monitors the rise and fall of pollutants and chemicals in the air around it. It was eye opening to see first-hand, the effects that human activity have on the air we breathe.
Over the next four days, we successfully caught over 70 different Tasmanian Devils. Once they’ve been caught, our Team Leader physically examines each one for wounds or potential tumours which may indicate the presence of Devil Facial Tumour Disease. The wonderful news is that as of now, there has been no sign of the disease in the Woolnorth Devil population. Fingers crossed we don’t find any for the remainder of the trip! The Team Leader will then microchip any new Devil’s, take tissue samples for analysis, and measure the length of their teeth. Teeth measurements are taken so that we can get an estimate age for the individual. It’s my job as the scribe to record all these observations.
Once the health check is complete, the Devil’s are released back to the wild! The funny thing is, we occasionally catch the same Devil the following day, as it seems the strung-up pieces of lamb are too tempting to miss out on. We’ve also seen lots of adorable babies in the pouch, referred to as pouch young, which is such a promising sign! Check out these adorable little babies!
Well, that’s me for now! Signing out.