Mainland Devils Project In The News


The Mainland Devils project has featured in mainstream media.

Table of Contents
  • Sun Herald - 12 August 2007 - The (Tasmania) devil's in the detail

  • Sun Herald - 12 August 2007 - The (Tasmania) devil's in the detail

    With their distinctive snarls and fierce faces Tasmania devils are a powerful symbol of Australia's most southern state.

    But could pockets of the animals, thought to have long ago died out on the mainland, still exist in Victoria and even NSW?

    Two amateur naturalists believe so and have embarked on a project to monitor wildlife traffic in rural areas with cameras in the hope of turning up evidence of mainland devils.

    With Tasmania's population of devils threatened by a debilitating facial tumour disease, the idea of discovering a genetically distinct population has been greeted with cautious interest by mainstream biologists.

    "If there's a slight chance it's true then putting effort into pursuing the idea is worth it," said Dr Jenny Martin, a lecturer in the Department of Zoology at the University of Melbourne.

    "But it would be pretty amazing if it was true."

    Once found across most of the Australian mainland, devil numbers went into serious decline following the arrival of dingoes from Asia between 3500 and 4000 years.

    It is thought an increase in human populations at that time may also have affected numbers.

    The last mainland devil is thought to have become extinct about 400 years ago, although some scientists speculate the creatures may have maintained a foothold during early European settlement.

    Amateur naturalists Chris Rehberg and Debbie Hynes hope that pockets of devil population may still be existance in Victoria and as far north as NSW.

    They base their suppositions on a series of devil carcasses that have been found in Victoria over the past 100 years.

    Some are now held by Museum Victoria.

    "We know that a number of devils have been found since the early 1900s and 1991," said Rehberg, who operates the nature website www.wherelightmeetsdark.com.

    "There's at least three and as many as six."

    While it is possible the carcasses were the product of animals which escaped from zoos or private collections, the pair believe they may also indicate the presence of as yet undiscovered populations.

    They aim to analyse the data and use it to determine the best locations to position infrared remote cameras, which would be triggered by the passing fauna.

    Hynes, who operates the website www.thylacoleo.com, has already used the technique to locate a colony of bobucks, mountain brushtail possums, previously missed by other naturalists.

    They also propose capturing hair samples for DNA testing.

    Professor Chris Johnson a biologist from James Cook University with an interest in the extinction of Australian fauna said locating genetically distinct devils on the mainland was very unlikely.

    However, he said if they were found they could possibly be used to help fight facial tumour disease, a condition which is seriously affecting devil numbers.

    "It would be an extraordinarily valuable genetic resource to release back to the Tasmanian population," he said.