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Australia Maria Island Tasmanian devils thriving at expense of other species

09:16  22 june  2021
09:16  22 june  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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For millennia, Maria Island off Tasmania's east coast was a predator-free haven for ground-nesting and flightless birds such as the Tasmanian native hen, shear waters, Cape Barren geese and the little penguin.

That was until 2012, when during the height of crisis seeing a facial tumour disease decimating the Tasmanian devil population, 28 devils were brought onto the island as an insurance population.

In the years since, the have devils thrived — to the point there are now up to 90 devils living on Maria.

But experts say that success has come at the expense of local birds.

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"Before the devils were released, the estimate was around about 3,000 pairs of little penguins lived on Maria Island," BirdLife Tasmania's Eric Woehler said.

"A survey was conducted by Parks and Wildlife staff about 18 months ago … and they found that all of the penguin colonies on Maria Island were empty.

"There were no penguins left on Maria Island."

BirdLife Tasmania and several other conservation groups warned the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) before the 2012 introduction that this would be the outcome.

"For the last 500 or more years, every time we've seen a deliberate or accidental introduction of a predator onto an oceanic island, the result has been the same: a catastrophic impact on one or more species of bird," Dr Woehler said.

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"We suggested that the outcome of this particular introduction on Maria would follow what has been seen without fail everywhere else in the world, and sadly we were right."

A spokesperson for DPIPWE said Maria Island remained an important part of the Save the Devil Program (STDP) to restore the wild devil population in Tasmania.

"The devil population is currently managed to achieve a population-size range of between 60 to 90 individuals to reduce impacts to island ecology," the spokesperson said.

"All effective conservation programs are adaptive and the STDP will continue to evolve in line with new knowledge in science and emerging priorities."

But Dr Woehler said efforts to reduce the program's impact on Maria Island's ecology had clearly failed.

He called on the DPIPWE to act quickly to give the little penguins a chance to return to the island, which had been a rare, safe breeding spot away from feral dogs and cats.

"Losing 3,000 pairs of penguins from a national park on an island that should act as a refuge for the species is clearly a catastrophic impact," Dr Woehler said.

"One could only hope the devils are removed as quickly as possible."

While the devil population in Tasmania has stabilised in recent years thanks to breeding programs and new research into the deadly facial tumour disease, experts warn the species is not out of the woods yet.

Bruce Lyons, an expert in Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease, argued that to remove a successful insurance population now would be premature.

"There's a second tumour [type] that's arisen … and the effects of that, we really don't know what will happen," Dr Lyons said.

"At this stage it would be prudent to keep them where they are."

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usr: 3
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