Thursday 11 June 2009
SPECIAL INTEREST MATTER
DEVIL ISLAND PROJECT
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, if we do not save and ensure the future of the Tasmanian devil we will have failed as Tasmanians. European settlers came to this island and within a few years everything changed. We performed horrible cruelties on Tasmania's original inhabitants, we made the Tasmanian tiger extinct and if we are not careful, history will show us having failed to save the Tasmanian devil, our State icon.
Madam President, there are government efforts at various levels to save the Tasmanian devil, our largest remaining marsupial carnivore. The scientific community is working hard to understand devil facial disease but there is plenty of evidence that we are nowhere near to understanding the disease or preserving our Tasmanian icon. More effort is needed by us all. I know the Government is pitching in and working hard but we need more effort.
Madam President, let us not forget the contribution the community can make in the battle to protect our icon from extinction. It is believed that the estimated 150 000 Tasmanian devils in 1999 have diminished to somewhere between 10 000 and 25 000. We wiped out the Tasmanian tiger in just 132 years and now, despite all our knowledge and our understanding of the Tasmanian environment, we seem about to do the same with the Tasmanian devil. Biologist, Nick Mooney, a wildlife expert, as you know, said that if we lose our devils it will be unforgivable, and I agree. Let us redouble our efforts, Madam President. It is possible our scientists will one day understand this facial cancer disease that rots the devil's face away. In the meantime let us employ lateral thinking out there in our community.
Tasmanian thylacines survived mainland predators because Bass Strait sank and separated them from the mainland - the island concept; it is not a bad one. One community group has been fighting to get this concept, the Devil Island Project, recognised and supported. We cannot sink more Bass straits but we can create survival islands for our disease-free devils to keep them that way. The Devil Island Project is providing sanctuaries where devils roam free from the cancer that has killed two-thirds of their population. In these free-range, extensive enclosures called 'frees' devils run in their natural environment and are free to learn and pass on their natural behaviours.
Tasmanian of the Year, Bruce Englefield, saw the need to build large, double-security fence enclosures to prevent any possibility of escape, of contact between diseased and disease-free devils as well. Two perimeter fences - one of solid steel sheeting and one of security fencing wire - 6 metres apart are all that is needed. They need to be buried into the ground. They are not cheap but they are one way of preserving our devils from extinction. Bruce Englefield himself has donated the land on the east coast to establish the first disease-free population. He has received close cooperation from DPIW. Devil islands 2 and 3 are about to be built and there are negotiations for land donations to build 3, 4 and 5 around the State. Those donations are coming from concerned citizens within our Tasmanian community. It is only early days. If we assume we can stop at two-and-a-half devils per hectare, by Bruce's estimation, we will need 19 more devil islands ranging in size from 12 hectares to 40 hectares to look after the welfare of the devil by keeping the devils' natural habitat and diet. Wild behaviour is maintained and then learnt by the offspring. Devil islands are extremely cost-effective to manage in the future.
In March this year you may have seen some publicity. The University of Tasmania and the State Government joined to raise funds to coordinate groups working to save the devil and to promote awareness of this terrible problem. This latter initiative probably has the most potential. It is not government or established organisations that will save our devils but community-based initiatives with government support. The UTAS Foundation, chaired by David Raoul, is ramping up funds for devil research and conservation. It is even developing the raising of funds in the United States where they have a great tax-free bonus, so there are big opportunities for the Tasmanian devil, with of course the Walt Disney connection. The body sees its role as working with groups and fundraising whilst groups maintain their own identities and keep working with the community to complete their own projects.
Madam President, it is community groups that will save the Tasmanian devil, with government support. The signing of the State Government and University of Tasmania Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal Committee this month is a landmark in community support for the program to save our Tasmanian icon.
The Primary Industries and Water Minister, David Llewellyn, has said, and I would like to quote him, Madam President:
'When we began the program we did not foresee the desire of the community and industry wanting to be a part of the conservation effort. The establishment of this appeal committee will enable the funding of the broader goals of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program from community contributions'.
Long live our community, Madam President, and long live our Tasmanian devils.