FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 19, 2016
Saint Louis Zoo Welcomes Tasmanian Devils for First Time in 30 Years
New Emerson Children's Zoo Habitat Built Specifically for Devils Opens April 28
The Saint Louis Zoo now cares for two female Tasmanian devils in a new $550,000 Emerson Children's Zoo habitat, opening Thursday, April 28. This Tasmanian-themed habitat was built specifically for these endangered animals, and the sisters' arrival marks the first time in 30 years that the Saint Louis Zoo has cared for this species.
"Because Tasmanian devils are in such trouble in the wild, the Saint Louis Zoo has joined other like-minded conservation organizations in an initiative to secure a healthy future for this species," said Jeffrey P. Bonner, Ph.D., Dana Brown President and Chief Executive Officer of the Saint Louis Zoo. "These two animals will serve as ambassadors to raise awareness among our 3.2 million annual visitors about the need to save the wild devil population."
On March 23, the two female devils named Yindi (YIN-dee) and Jannali (JAN-al-ee), both age 2, arrived in St. Louis from Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia. Tasmanian devils are found in the wild only in Tasmania, an island state of Australia.
Selected as one of only six U.S. zoos to care for Tasmanian devils, the Saint Louis Zoo is participating in the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program —an Australian government initiative. As part of its commitment to this species, the Zoo provides funds to Australia's Zoo Aquarium Association Wildlife Conservation Fund supporting Tasmanian devil population monitoring and management. Tasmanian devil populations in the wild have been decimated since the emergence of devil facial tumor disease in 1996.
Spacious Habitat Seen Through Bird-Safe Glass
At the new habitat, Zoo visitors will be able to view the Tasmanian devils through two, eight-feet-high and eight-feet-wide Ornilux glass panels. This is the first exhibit at the Zoo to incorporate this special glass, which is glazed with ultraviolet reflective striping that is highly visible to birds, yet almost invisible to humans.
The habitat offers the animals more than 2,000 square feet of outdoor living space and includes two dens, a fresh water pond and a landscape of hardy plants, boulders and logs. The dens are cooled in the summer and heated in the winter with water circulating through a grid of piping in the den floor. The habitat also offers the animals an elevated area where they can look over the exhibit area below, and it has been specially constructed to provide plenty of soil for these expert diggers to burrow.
"These animals will have a myriad of opportunities to exhibit natural behaviors in this complex environment. The Zoo will also be providing an interactive play area for our young guests to learn about the Tasmanian devil's unique natural history and the threats the species faces in the wild," said Alice Seyfried, Fred Saigh Curator of the Emerson Children's Zoo.
World's Largest Carnivorous Marsupials
These animals are the world's largest carnivorous marsupials (pouched animal) and are well known for their intense vocalizations—an extremely loud screech. The species is characterized by its stocky and muscular build, black fur, pungent odor and keen sense of smell. Males typically weigh about 25 pounds and females about 18 pounds.
Wild populations have dramatically declined since the appearance of devil facial tumor disease. This disease only affects Tasmanian devils and is spread through devils' biting each other in fights. It is one of only four known naturally occurring transmissible cancers. In some areas, more than 80 percent of the free-ranging population has been wiped out. While scientists search for a cure for the disease, zoos are cooperating to raise a healthy, cancer-free assurance population.
"The Tasmanian devil is much more than the cartoon character we remember from the animated cartoon in the Warner Bros. 'Looney Tunes' and 'Merrie Melodies' series," Alice Seyfried said. "It is a Tasmanian icon that plays an important role as a flagship species for the environment and for all the animals in the area where it naturally exists. They sit at the top of the food chain, keep prey species numbers in check, decrease the spread of disease by cleaning up the remains of dead animals and compete with introduced predators, such as feral cats and the red fox."
Why the "fiery" name and reputation for an animal the size of a small dog? "While their name makes Tasmanian devils sound scary, they are actually quite shy," she added. "We are told the name 'devil' may come from the sounds they make. They make eerie growls while searching for food at night. And when a group of them feeds together, they screech and scream. They really are fascinating animals to care for and observe."
Devil Population Decline: Signs of Devil Facial Tumor Disease were first observed in North East Tasmania in 1996. Since then, the disease has spread rapidly, devastating wild populations. Other threats to this species include land-use changes, loss of habitat, vehicle collisions, feral cats, dogs and bushfires.
About the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program: The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program (STDP) was established in 2003 in response to the threat of Devil Facial Tumor Disease. Its mission is to combat the epidemic that is killing Tasmanian devils; to ensure the survival of the Tasmanian devil; and to achieve the endangered species' recovery in the wild as an ecologically functioning entity. Establishing an assurance population was an immediate strategy to guard against extinction of the species. The core activity of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program is funded by the Australian and Tasmanian Governments.
About Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, Australia: This zoo opened to the public in 1977, to provide living and breeding space for large animals. The zoo is run by the Taronga Conservation Society (formerly Zoological Parks Board of New South Wales), along with Taronga Zoo. This Zoo is one of 15 wildlife organizations across Australia breeding a disease-free population of Tasmanian devils. The national effort to save the Tasmanian devil involves controlled breeding with the hope of boosting numbers in the wild when the risk of disease is arrested or diminishes.
About the ZAA Wildlife Conservation Fund: This public fund of the Zoo and Aquarium Association links zoos and aquariums in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific in a cooperative regional network for wildlife conservation. The fund is currently pooling conservation funds from the U.S. zoos caring for ambassador Tasmanian devils to purchase new cameras for the free-range enclosures where devils are housed prior to their release into the wild. The cameras allow staff to monitor the behavior and welfare of the devils during their pre-release conditioning.