Tasmanian devil Dash is just a week away from completing her quarantine and moving to our Australia Bush Track habitat – also home to our elderly male devil Smiley, and recently received a full health check-up.

While a little on the “chunky” side and with one blood test still pending, our vet team say Dash, who relocated from our friends at Welllington Zoo in late January, looks to be in great health.

Carnivore keeper Nick, the Zoo’s devil expert and a passionate advocate for this unique Aussie species (the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial!) says partly contributing to Dash being on the heavier side right now is the fact that she’s in oestrus.

“When it’s breeding season, female devils naturally build up extra fat around and along their necks as you can see from Dash’s x-ray. It’s nature’s way of preparing and protecting them for the rough and tumble of mating when the males will drag them by the neck– a natural behaviour for these devils,” explains Nick.

“Dash has a lovely nature and is very lively and curious, so is likely to be more visible for our visitors. Female devils tend to have a lot more sass than their male counterparts anyway, and Dash has sass in spades! Once she’s introduced to the devil habitat – a varied and enriching environment, we’re predicting she’s going to be even active and burn off lots more energy.”

Nick says he and his fellow Carnivore keeper colleagues will be putting Dash on a little diet to get her to her optimal weight. “We feed our devils the same diet (meats) they’d have in the wild – so the likes of possum, rabbit and wallaby. We’ll just reduce her food intake, but she’ll still be getting everything she needs to maintain excellent health. And thanks to the great work our Wellington colleagues have done with station training Dash, we’ll be able to continue this, and get her to go onto scales to be weighed.”

While we have not yet been asked to breed devils, Auckland Zoo is one of a group of zoos supporting the Australian Government’s Tasmanian Devil Ambassador Program to help this endangered species that’s battling the life-threatening Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD).

The aim of the program is to preserve both captive and wild animals and raise awareness and support to ensure this species’ future. Collectively, these zoos, including Auckland, provide homes to maintain an insurance population of around 550 disease-free devils.

Androo Kelly, world-renowned devil expert and owner and director of Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary in Tasmania who has helped train some of our staff in caring for devils, says this support is critical.

“Being able to move devils to other zoos, such as Auckland, is helping free up valuable space in bigger breeding facilities like Trowunna so that we can continue breeding, as recommended by the programme.”

“Devils are a ‘boom-bust’ species; they’re great breeders but only have a short live span, so it’s really essential we keep breeding to ensure a big enough captive population that’s both healthy and self-sustaining,” says Androo.

A fifth generation Tasmanian with a deep love for devils says to Kiwis he’d describe them as the marsupial kea!

“They’re very smart, cheeky, social, and mischievous. They can also be quite timid, but when they get together they do like to argue and push each other around, and their screams are a natural way of exchange in devil society.

“Tasmanian devils have a language, they understand community and socialise at feedings. What might sound like aggressive growling to you and I is ‘good afternoon, how are you?’”

In visiting Auckland Zoo, you are helping us support important conservation programmes like the Tasmanian Devil Ambassador Program – ka pai!

Some devil detail

  • The Tasmanian devil is the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial. Males can grow up to 12kg, and females up to around 8kg.
  • Devils are ready to breed from two years of age. As many as 50 joeys can be born at one time, but only four can survive, as there are only four nipples in the mother’s pouch.
  • Devils have a short life span (around six years), but a high breeding rate, with females producing up to four offspring each year.
  • Once widespread throughout Australia, devils are now only found in Tasmania, and classified as ‘Endangered’ (IUCN Red List).
  • Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), first identified in 1996, is a contagious cancer characterised by mostly mouth, face and neck tumours. It spreads like wildlife amongst devils through the typical mouthing and biting they do to each other as they cooperatively feed on predated fresh meat and carrion.
  • As yet, there is no cure. However, a vaccine has been developed to help try and combat the development of tumours although it is not 100% guaranteed effectiveness. In recent discoveries, some wild populations of devils have been shown to have developed a natural immune response to the disease.
  • Auckland Zoo is currently home to two Tasmanian devils; Female Dash (who turns four in mid-March) and elderly male Smiley (five years and nine months).