, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 326–337 | Cite as

Conservation Management of Tasmanian Devils in the Context of an Emerging, Extinction-threatening Disease: Devil Facial Tumor Disease

  • Menna E. Jones
  • Peter J. Jarman
  • Caroline M. Lees
  • Heather Hesterman
  • Rodrigo K. Hamede
  • Nick J. Mooney
  • Dydee Mann
  • Chrissy E. Pukk
  • Jemma Bergfeld
  • Hamish McCallum
Special Focus: Tasmanian Devil Declines


An emerging infectious facial cancer threatens Tasmanian devils with extinction. The disease is likely to occur across the range of the devil within 5 years. This urgent time frame requires management options that can be implemented immediately: the establishment of insurance populations, in captivity, wild-living on islands, and aiming for eradication in areas that can be isolated. The long-term options of the spontaneous or assisted evolution of resistance or development of a field-deliverable vaccine are unlikely to be available in time. The disease’s characteristic allograft transmission through intimate contact simplifies isolation of insurance populations and breaking transmission in suppression trials. Better knowledge of contact matrices in wild devils will help focus timing and demographic targets of removals. A metapopulation approach is needed that integrates captive and wild-living island and peninsula (disease suppression) populations to minimize the loss of genetic diversity over 50 years until either extinction and reintroduction can occur, resistance evolves or a field-deliverable vaccine is developed. Given the importance of the insurance populations and the low genetic diversity of devils, a conservative target for retention of 95% genetic diversity is recommended. Encouraging preliminary results of the first disease-suppression trial on a large peninsula show fewer late stage tumors and no apparent population decline. Limiting geographic spread or suppressing the disease on a broadscale are both unlikely to be feasible. Since the synergy of devil decline and impending fox establishment could have devastating consequences for Tasmanian wildlife, it is crucial to manage the dynamics of new and old predator species together.


emerging wildlife disease disease management Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease extinction risk carnivorous marsupial ecosystem impacts 



We thank Stephen Pyecroft, Alex Schaap, John Whittington, Barrie Wells, Rupert Woods, and Steven Smith who have contributed to the ideas in this document; Greg Hocking for the provision of spotlighting data; and Marco Restani for collaboration. We are very grateful to the numerous individuals who have helped with captive and wild management. For captive management, we are grateful to the trappers, keepers, and veterinarians who collected and maintain the Tasmanian government quarantine populations, especially James Harris for veterinary services; the owners, managers, and keepers of all of the Tasmanian Wildlife Parks and four mainland Australian zoos; and Qantas for transporting devils to the mainland. We are indebted in so many ways to the Dunbabin family (Tom, Cynthia, and Matthew), on whose land we conducted the disease-suppression trial; to John Hamilton for trialing devil-proof road grids and housing orphan devils; to Jim Platt for road engineering to secure the peninsula; and to the wildlife carers who raise the orphans. We thank Richard Koch (Parks and Wildlife Service) for assistance with developing island plans. The trapping and captive programs could not function without countless hours put in by large numbers of volunteers.


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Copyright information

© Ecohealth Journal Consortium 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Menna E. Jones
    • 1
    • 2
  • Peter J. Jarman
    • 3
  • Caroline M. Lees
    • 4
  • Heather Hesterman
    • 1
    • 2
  • Rodrigo K. Hamede
    • 1
  • Nick J. Mooney
    • 2
  • Dydee Mann
    • 2
  • Chrissy E. Pukk
    • 2
  • Jemma Bergfeld
    • 5
  • Hamish McCallum
    • 1
  1. 1.School of ZoologyUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  2. 2.Wildlife Management BranchDepartment of Primary Industries and WaterHobartAustralia
  3. 3.School of Ecosystem ManagementUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  4. 4.Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks and AquariaMosmanAustralia
  5. 5.Diagnostic Services, Department of Primary Industries and WaterKing’s MeadowsAustralia

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