The devil's in the details: more about Devil Ark

The Devil Ark concept was first developed and discussed among zoos in 2006, and formally presented at the Tasmanian Devil IUCN workshop held in Hobart in July, 2008, where most, if not all relevant stakeholders, researchers and wildlife agencies were represented.

The Devil Ark proposal generated considerable discussion and what appeared to be nearly universal informal support. During the course of the workshop, the descriptive ‘free range environmental enclosure complex’ was coined, but quickly shortened to ‘free range enclosures’ to achieve a more responsible acronym: ‘FRE’. Much of the support for the concept stemmed from the impression that more natural conditions would provide a range of advantages to the devils – biologically, behaviourally, and of course, reproductively.

After the development of the Devil Ark concept, the managers of the Australian Reptile Park have worked with a range of partners and stakeholders to bring about the physical creation of what has been referred to as the most ambitious breeding program for an endangered predator species anywhere in the world. It is only now, following the construction of ‘Phase 1’ of the project, that it has become appropriate to generate public awareness of the project and, in particular, to find much needed sponsors and financial support for the project.

Devil Ark site

Devil Ark site

Advantages of the Devil Ark model over the ‘intensively managed’ component of the STTDP insurance population include cost effectiveness. Due to the provision of small groups of interacting devils in relatively large bushland pens, each with a wide range of burrows and retreats for the security of individual devils, the necessity of micromanaging and closely supervising all social interactions between the devils – a feature of traditional ‘one-devil-per-pen’ intensive holdings – is circumvented.

A range of additional practical advantages contribute to a substantial ‘economy of scale’ benefit. The projected annual maintenance cost per devil at Devil Ark is less than $900 per year, a dramatic improvement over the existing costs that zoos are incurring – ranging from $4,000 per year (at the Australian Reptile Park) to as much as $20,000 per year at the statutory zoos.

Of perhaps greater importance, the advantages of maintaining Tasmanian devils in far more natural environmental and social conditions will undoubtedly be conducive to the retention of wild-type characteristics, and the avoidance of unintended ‘artificial selection’ for adaptation to captivity in the longer term – a genetic trap regarded as a serious fault in many endangered species breeding programs in the past.

Devil Ark site

Devil Ark site

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