First Ambassador Devils in New Zealand

Wellington Zoo received the first shipment of Tasmanian devils on Thursday 5 December. The transfer marks the next step in the expansion of the conservation program to include New Zealand along with North America. The Ambassador Devil initiative is designed to deliver significant benefits for the conservation of the devil. This includes the raising of public awareness outside Australia as well as practical on-ground support for activities being undertaken within Australia.

The initiative is possible only now that an Insurance Population of well over 600 healthy Tasmanian devils has been established to guard against the species' extinction. The animals going to Wellington Zoo were selected because they are no longer required for their genetic contribution to the Insurance Population. They will be used instead to publicise the Tasmanian devil in New Zealand and raise awareness of the deadly Devil Facial Tumour Disease and the conservation program.

The four devils - two two-year old females and a one-year old male and female - are fifth generation captive animals, descendants of two orphan devils cared for at Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary in 1992 before the emergence of the disease. They were selected for Wellington Zoo by Australia's Zoo and Aquarium Association, which is a key partner to the Devil Program and is overseeing the Ambassador Devil initiative.

Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary has been a core partner to the Program from its inception, providing practical support in terms of breeding for the Insurance Population. It is also the recognized authority on devil husbandry, having run courses for devil keepers from local, national and international institutions; and designed and custom built the animal air transport crates for the devils.

Kristin Kennedy from Wellington Zoo accompanied the devils on their journey from Tasmania to New Zealand. Having already undertaken the devil husbandry course at Trowunna last August, Kristin spent the days prior to the devils' departure getting to know their individual personalities. Wellington Zoo is set to open its newly constructed facilities for the Tasmanian devil exhibit next week.

The four devils now at Wellington Zoo along with those that went to San Diego earlier in October, are the first of a number of devils to be placed in overseas zoos over the coming year. The Ambassador devil initiative will be trialled at San Diego Zoo and Albuquerque Zoo in North America, and at Wellington Zoo, Orana Wildlife Sanctuary and Auckland Zoo in New Zealand over the next 12 months before being expanded to other zoos in North America, Europe and Asia.

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Photo: Kristin Kennedy, Wellington Zoo and Paul Ralley, Trowunna unload the devil crates at Hobart Airport