What would it be like to be a ... Conservation Biologist?

We asked Dr Samantha Fox – who is a member of the
Tasmanian Devil Program’s trapping team – about the work she is doing in saving the Tasmanian Devils and what it is like working with the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world!

Sam with one of the devils she has trapped.

How many
Tasmanian Devils are left in the wild? (James & Bailey)

That’s a really difficult question to answer James and Bailey. Devils only come out at night so they are really hard to count. We don’t know exactly how many devils are left but we think they have declined by 70% - which means nearly two thirds of them have gone.

How many Devils have you trapped? How many have you found at one time? (Morgan, Anjali, Archie)

Well guys, I have been working with the devil team for a year now and in that time I have done 8 trapping trips. Each trapping trip is very different and so the number of devils you catch varies enormously. I think the trip I have caught the most devils on I caught 22 animals. All of my trips have been working with populations that have had disease through them for a while and so the numbers of devils you catch is only small. In September and December this year I am going to be working in non-diseased areas and so we will probably catch a lot more devils.

Baby Devils in the pouch

Have you ever been bitten? (Adrian & Neve)

Luckily, Adrian and Neve, I have not been bitten. But one particular devil who I have caught many times now, is very aggressive and he bit my boot and left indentations in the side of my boot and my foot hurt for half an hour!! Now I wear steel capped boots!!

Do they get scared when you trap them? (Erin)

Yes Erin, most devils have no idea what you are and are terrified. Their way of dealing with this is to sit perfectly still and so most of the time they are very well behaved when we are working with them, which is just as well because I have to look in their mouths to see if they have any disease.

How do you stop the Devils getting the disease? Do you put them somewhere? (Sam, Erin, Neve and Abbey)

Yes guys, at the moment the only thing that will stop devils getting the disease is to stop them coming into contact with another devil that has the disease. So you can do a number of things. You can remove all the diseased devils, you could put all the healthy devils into an area that is fenced off to stop diseased devils getting in or you could put a fence around a healthy population so that diseased devils can’t move into that area.

A disease-free devil enjoying the sun.

Why do they get it on their faces? (Sam)

Well Sam, the main reason that they mostly get it on their faces is because this is where they usually bite each other when they are fighting. The do get the disease in other places as well but it is mostly found around the face and neck where they will often grab each other when fighting over food or when mating.

What equipment do you use to catch them? (Bailey, Jake, Archie, Erin and Simon)

Well guys, we use a special trap just for devils made out of poly-pipe. This is a nice enclosed space where they are sheltered from sun and rain and they can curl up and go to sleep while waiting for us. Then we put them in a hessian sack while we process them and use a pair of calipers to take measurements

Sam holds onto a Devil that has been placed into a hessian sack

Where is the most common place to trap
Devils? (Simon)

Well Simon, we do a lot of our trapping in diseased areas, mainly down on the Forestier Peninsula. But the best area to trap a lot of devils would be the north-west coast of Tasmania

The Forestier Peninsula has, unfortunately, a lot of diseased devils.

What made you come to Australia? (Angus)

I came to Australia, Angus, to finish my undergraduate degree at James Cook University in Townsville. And then I never left! I love Australia and now consider it home.

Do you help baby devils, grown-ups or both? (Abbey)

We help all devils Abbey!

Do you like doing your job? (Anjali)

I love doing my job Anjali!! I have spent 8 years at University training to be a Conservation Biologist so I was very excited when I got this job as it is my dream job.

Will you be able to cure the facial tumour disease in our Tasmanian Devils? (Morgan)

We are really trying Morgan. It’s a hard one though, because devils are found all over Tasmania and even if we had a cure for the disease it would be hard to find every devil to give the cure to. We will do everything we can though.

Thank you so much, Sam, for allowing the students an inside view into the important work you are doing saving this now-endangered animal. We wish you and the rest of the team every success in your efforts.

Read more about what is happening to save the Tasmanian Devil @ http://tassiedevil.com.au/

Flynn has found a devil that has piercing eyes.

Tara has found a cute little devil!

Abbey has found a little devil who is showing some teeth ... smiling or thinking you're a meal, Abbey?