Tuesday 14 November 2017
Hansard of the Legislative Council
Devil Island Project

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - It is very comforting to have my own cheer squad in the President's grandstand.

A highly successful project to help save the threatened Tasmanian Devil has completed its work, the Devil Island Project is being wound up.  However, this by no means marks the end of the ongoing work to rebuild the Tasmanian Devil population.

The story of the Devil Island Project started more than 10 years ago in December 2006 when the main force behind the project, Bruce Englefield, sought to progress the idea of large-scale quarantine facilities, or devil islands, to house disease-free devils.  The sanctuary idea was endorsed by conservation biologist Nick Mooney of DPIPWE and taken up by the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.  It has continued with the amazing volunteer help and support of the project board and committee members, state and federal governments, business and the general public.

Fundraising projects included volunteers, at their own expense, running in the 2008 London Marathon, which generated $46 000 and moved the plight of the Tasmanian Devils into the international sphere.  Some members did the marathon three times, again at their own expense.  There have been numerous other fundraising projects, in particular two very successful dinners, one in Launceston and one in Hobart.  The Launceston dinner raised over $120 000, not bad in one night, and the Hobart dinner, $168 000.

A wild population of 14 disease-free devils was established in an enclosed 12-hectare devil island at Bruce and Maureen Englefield's East Coast Natureworld in May 2008.

The project's patron, swimming legend Shane Gould, spoke at that opening.  This year Bruce Englefield, who is with us today, was named Tasmanian of the Year and in 2010, Tasmanian Australian of the Year.

In 2009, the Tasmanian Government pledged $400 000 to be added to funds already raised by the project.  Three more devil islands were built, each one twice the size of the first one at Natureworld.  Dr David Sinn, a scientific officer with the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, explained that the advantage of a number of enclosures was that it increased the chance of housing animals that retained their wild devil traits and could later adapt after being released into the wild.  That worked.  One of the secrets of enclosure management is minimal human intervention so the devils retain their wild survival behaviour.

By May 2013 there were more than 500 disease-free devils being held as insurance populations in the zoos, wildlife parks and enclosures around Australia.
However, the Tasmanian Devil Island free-range enclosure system had several distinct advantages over other insurance population management.

Besides their value of breeding disease-free devils, the enclosures have increased understanding of how to adaptively manage devils and their breeding outcomes in larger captive groups.  Dr Judy Clarke says the devils bred in these free-range enclosures show wild-type behaviours that are retained into adulthood.

A big landmark in the Devil Island Project came after a delegation from the Devil Island Project went to Canberra for a meeting with the then minister for environment, Greg Hunt.  With help from the then state minister, Matthew Groom, and Senator Eric Abetz, we were able to secure $500 000 and were asked to design and build a portable barrier system of panels to enable release enclosures to be set up effectively and quickly.  This system was named after Fiona Hoskin as the principal fundraiser and supporter of the Devil Island Project over 10 years.

We were also asked to raise money and build another devil island near Hobart at a cost of $300 000 to enable Professor Greg Woods and his team at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research to have access to devils for their immunisation trials.  Both projects were completed on time and to budget.

The end of an amazing era was heralded at the Devil Island Project's AGM at Ross on 1 September when the board voted unanimously to begin moving to wind up the project and direct its remaining funds to other devil research programs.  It was the end of an era for me as the Chair of the Devil Island Project.  However, my contribution over the past 10 years was quite minor compared to that of Bruce and Maureen Englefield, Shane Gould, David and Joanna Stronach, Fiona Hoskin, Rob Pennicott, numerous volunteers, fundraisers and philanthropists, and the backing of Dr Howell Williams of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.

With passion, energy and good management some things do work.  We have not saved the Tasmanian Devil yet but its future is secure, so we are well on the way.

Members - Hear, hear.