Night Safari welcomes first Tasmanian Devils at last, following pandemic delays
SINGAPORE — The Night Safari welcomed four Tasmanian Devils, one of Australia’s most iconic predators, to its Wallaby Trail exhibition in November last year.
The four females – Crumpet, Snickers, Jesse and Panini – are part of the insurance population managed by the Save the Tasmanian Devil Programme (STDP), an initiative of the Australian and Tasmanian State governments and an official response to the threat posed by Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD).
Tasmanian Devils are listed as endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. DFTD, a type of transmissible cancer, is highly contagious among Tasmanian Devil populations, and results in large facial tumours which can prevent them from eating, eventually causing starvation.
Since the discovery of the disease in 1996, the wild population has declined by at least 80 per cent in diseased areas, now spread across the majority of the state.
“Prior to their arrival, we worked closely with our counterparts in Australia to design a suitable habitat for them here in Singapore and upskill our animal care team with the knowledge to care for these endangered marsupials," said Dr Luis Carlos Neves, Mandai Wildlife Group's vice-president of animal care.
"Our newest residents will be important ambassadors to help raise awareness about the plight of their wild counterparts.”
Plans disrupted by COVID pandemic
Planning and discussions for Night Safari to receive the Tasmanian Devils started as early as 2018, with the Tasmanian Devils’ projected to arrive in 2020. The nocturnal zoo's animal care team travelled to Tasmania in 2019 to undergo training on how to safely manage them for medical procedures, and the ways to feed the carnivorous marsupials.
However, plans took a turn with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions. The teams had to work on preparations virtually, filming a video of the new exhibit to share with the Australian partners to verify that the facilities suited the animals’ needs.
After four years of planning, the four Tasmanian Devils arrived safely in Singapore on 7 October last year, and were brought to their indoor dens for a mandatory 30-day quarantine.
Small in stature, big in personality
The launch of the Tasmanian Devil exhibit was graced by William Hodgman, Australian High Commissioner to Singapore. It consists of two climate-controlled indoor exhibits, two outdoor habitats for the animals to roam and explore, as well as back-of-house facilities.
Tasmanian Devils are known to be small in stature but big in personality. They have unique vocalisations such as growls, screams and screeches when feeding or during confrontations with one another.
“Crumpet is a confident individual with a more dominant personality. She spends hours exploring her surroundings in the outdoor yard and does not like being picked up by the keepers for health checks," said Razak Jaffar, Mandai Wildlife Group's assistant curator for marsupials.
"Snickers, on the other hand, is much more reserved, preferring to hide in her nest box when Crumpet expresses her dominance.
"Jesse and Panini have formed a bond despite a rocky start. Their first introduction was full of open-jawed caterwauling and squabbles. The pair now thoroughly enjoy each other’s company, preferring to sleep together in the same nest box and appearing restless when they are not together."
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