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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Zoo plays devils’ advocate

The National Zoo & Aquarium (NZA) has welcomed a new arrival – Mahala the Tasmanian Devil.

Tasmanian-born as part of the Trowunna breeding program, the five-year-old Tassie Devil came to Canberra from Monarto Zoo and replaces the NZA’s previous devil, Lewis, who died of old age earlier this year.

Team leader of Australian Natives at the NZA, Dr Danielle Johinke, said Mahala is the only devil at the zoo but “we are hoping to get more in the future”.

Mahala’s timely arrival offered an opportunity to raise awareness for Australian threatened species conservation with Saturday 7 September being National Threatened Species Day.

Dr Johinke said Australia has the highest rate of native animal extinction “and what we are trying to do is stop that in its tracks”.

For the critically endangered Tasmanian Devil, Dr Johinke said the major issue stems from Devil Facial Tumour Disease, which was identified in 1996 and “in that time has devastated the population by 90%”. She said there is no vaccination, prevention or treatment.

Other issues, which are shared by other native species, are the loss of habitat, introduced species and climate change.

“For the Tasmanian Devil, people can contribute to the Save the (Tasmanian) Devil program,” Dr Johinke said. “It’s an umbrella organisation looking to increase devil numbers in captivity and the wild.”

Koalas are another species in need and as their habitat is more widespread, Dr Johinke said there are some simple things people can personally do to help.

This includes: preparing for bushfires, because koalas are losing a lot of habitat and, if there is a fire, to look out for wildlife; opt for FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) products; and “closer to home and suburban areas, keep dogs and cats locked in at night” in case of koalas coming down in search of food or water.

“Because their habitat is getting smaller or further stretched … and in summer food dries up, they have to look for other options,” Dr Johinke said.

The NZA held a range of activities for National Threatened Species Day on Saturday 7 September with all monies raised going towards the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.

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