Saturday, March 26, 2011

NSW Libs know their native animals!

Copied and pasted from the NSW Liberals environment policy:

•Threatened species - We will protect threatened species across NSW, including better protection for Koalas, Tasmanian Devils and Flying Foxes.

How can they provide better protection for an animal which doesn't occur in the wild in NSW? Better cages, armed guards?

While we're speaking of my Tassie cousins, check this out: A damn worthy undertaking if you ask me.


Anonymous said...


The managed population projects are almost certainly the only real hope for the devils in the long term.

Medical efforts will not work in the field, not matter how successful they might eventually be in a lab (and even that's a long bow to draw, indeed), and I say this with a decade and a half of experience in oncology, immunology and pharmacology before having changed to working in ecology.

And because DFTD has the signature of a socially transmitted disease it is density-independent, and thus will persist for as long as there are sufficient individuals around to circumvent stochastic separation of afflicted versus non-afflicted animals. By the time that it peters out in the wild from such stochastic isolation of unafflicted animals, the population of the devil itself is likely to be too low to allow recovery in the wild.

One of the big issues with managed populations though is that they need to accomplish the first breeding young, because success of breeding drops exponentially (by around 50%) with each year that first breeding is not accomplished.

And the populations need to be managed away from human interference, in environments that preserve the animals' natural behaviours. Devils are perhaps not the most intelligent of mammals, but they have a subtly complex social system, and they are vulnerable to losing the 'cultural' behaviours that support themin the wild.

Most of the captive populations that are currently around have animals in small (less than tens of hectares) enclosures that have visible human activity. In such circumstances devils are likely to lose a lot of the acquired behaviours that make them wild (and thus, viable) devils.

And even though they are naturally depauperate in their genetic diversity, past breeding populations have been dangerously small. This results in a circumstance which is likely to produce (say) chincilla and dalmatian devils before they could be hypothetically released back to a depopulated environment, because the devil has a lifespan of only about five years, and an average generation time of 2 to 4 years. Even with the most careful of stud-books, having so many generations in captivity would result in inevitable domestication traits appearing, unless the animals are scrupulously permitted to live naturally, and to select naturally for the most fit individuals.

This means that the best approach is to keep animals on clean islands, or in extremely large fenced-off areas away from too much human interference. In the absence of any other program that meets these criteria the Devil Ark is the best , and possibly the only, real hope for the animals.

In my time studying them I despaired for their future: given the sadly inadequate state of other programs around, Devil Ark is their last, best chance.


Spottedquoll said...

Thanks for those comments BJ, I have no issue with the Devils Ark Project, I have read through their REF and discussed the issue with a vet friend of mine who was concerned about the same issues as I and we were both satisfied satisfied with the response. I hope to go there for a look at some stage and I do hope it succeeds.

I just found it funny the NSW Libs are offering increased levels of protection for an animal not normally found in the wild in NSW.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, sorry to hijack your thread a bit, SQ. I guess that the NSW Libs' comments are just too ignorant for me to actually have focussed upon!

I'd love to hear of your visit to the Ark when you go. I only wish that the effort up there was as well funded down here, where the devils live: what Tassie has is a good start, but it should have been significantly scaled up by now. Unfortunately, the state coffers simply can't manage that degree of support, and the federal government hasn't been as concerned as they really should be for such an iconic species.

It's ironic that one of the best chances for the devils lies within the jurisdiction of a government that has no jurisdiction over the natural habitat of the devils themselves, and that seems to think that it does!


Spottedquoll said...

No worries with the minor threadjack BJ, all interesting diversions gratefully accepted (and it's not as if I'm overrun with replies around here). If I do get the opportunity to have a look I'll put together a few words (and hopefully photos).

I have heard there's a lot of Scotch Broom on the site (it's rampant in the Barrington Tops) I have no idea how or if it will affect the devils but given the reshuffle of various environment departments in NSW might have me getting back into bush regeneration (though we have been promised no job losses).

Anonymous said...

Yep, broom is a big problem up there. We used to pull it out hiking from Lagoon Pinch to the Top (one of my favourite walks in Australia, I reckon), and there was just no end to it.

Ironically, one of the other big problems up there - pigs - did a much better job uprooting broom than we ever could...