A cradle of life

Aussie Ark was established in the Barrington Tops to save Tasmanian devils from extinction. Today, it is helping to create a long-term future for a number of threatened Australian mammals.

In 2009, Tim Faulkner and John Weigel AM started breeding Tasmanian devils at the Australian Reptile Park on the Central Coast. It was a desperate attempt to save the rapidly declining species. With an already reduced population, a random genetic mutation had occurred in 1996 that led to Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) and wiped out 95% of wild devils within a few years.

“We can trace DFTD back to one individual female,” explains Aussie Ark Wildlife Ranger Rory Francis.
“It is contact transmissible, and it spread like wildfire. Tassie devils are a strongly food-oriented species, they can eat 40% of their body weight in under a minute. But with this horrible disease, they starve to death.”

Trying something new

“It was a huge effort to breed devils at the Reptile Park because the environment wasn’t ideal. Tim and John managed to breed 30 devils, but they soon realised that they needed to take them back to natural conditions if they wanted their efforts to be sustainable.”

Devil Ark, later renamed Aussie Ark, was established in the wilderness of the Barrington Tops in 2011 and the breeding program was so successful that the facility now holds more than half of the entire mainland breeding population of Tasmanian devils.

“Since we started, we have bred over 500 devils. We are holding about 250 on site right now,” Rory says. “We hold them in smaller breeding enclosures. Then we put them into our 400-ha wildlife sanctuary which is fence enclosed, but otherwise, we just leave them alone there.”

Creating that sanctuary was anything but easy. The Aussie Ark team had to make sure that no cats, foxes, or other non-native predators remained inside the fences.

“At one point, there was but a single fox left in the sanctuary, but we just couldn’t track him down. In the end, we had a female fox parading outside the fence and that’s what brought him out,” Rory chuckles.

Aussie Ark is New South Wales’ largest independently owned and operated conservation organisation and depends solely on donations. To find out more or to make a donation go to Aussieark.org.au.
All donations are tax deductible and help fund vital conservation work.

Read more in our Winter Edition of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Cornelia Schulze, photography courtesy of Aussie Ark