Devils release a ‘failure’: Trowunna Wildlife Park owner Androo Kelly

Androo Kelly.

Androo Kelly.

A wildlife park owner believes a previous Tasmanian devil release could have been a failure because the results of the trial have not been released.

It comes after several wildlife facilities refused to participate in an upcoming devils release in Stony Head, arguing it would place healthy devils at risk by putting them in a disease-ridden environment.

Last year, 20 devils were released into Narawntapu National Park as part of the beginning of a vaccination trial, which hoped to investigate whether a cure could be found for the Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease.

The Menzies Research Institute is working with the program in order to conduct an immunisation trial on the Tasmanian devils.

Menzies Institute for Medical Research Professor Greg Woods said it was too early to make an assessment on Narawntapu, as only a few devils had been trapped and remained healthy.

A spokesperson for the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment said that five out of the 20 devils released have since been hit by cars and died.

In the hope to save the species from extinction, the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program will next month release 32 devils into the wild at Stony Head, with half of those provided by an insurance population. 

Trowunna Wildlife Park owner Androo Kelly believed Narawntapu was a failure as numerous questions remained unanswered about the vaccine and its effectiveness. 

He said he offered four devils for the Stony Head program with one being taken for the release, though he remained skeptical.

Professor Woods argued the upcoming Stony Head release was the only way to test the effectiveness of the vaccine in the wild in a variety of scenarios.

“This is just a small trial to be monitored. If it's not going well, it will be stopped and not done again.”

But Mr Kelly argued that the Save the Tasmanian Devil Cressy Quarantine Facility would provide a safer environment to test the devils. 

“It’s a multi-function facility. It’s a big facility that quarantines devils so you can have diseased devils there...those healthy ones don’t lose their biosecurity status or category status,” he said.

Professor Woods was contacted in response to this claim, but could not be reached for comment. 

He said it could take between five to 15 years to develop a vaccine, particularly if the researchers don’t get a good response at Stony Head. 

“If they do come down with the disease that will be terrible for the animals, but it also tells us a really important finding is that the vaccine that we're working on needs to be improved,” Professor Woods argued.

The spokespersons for DPIPWE said that the devils would be tracked at Stony Head post-release using a GPS monitoring system, and monitored at regular periods as per previous releases.