Tasmanian Devil

Sarcophilus harrisii

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General Information

Status: Endangered

Population in Wild: 15,000 - 50,000

Location: Tasmania, Australia

Diet: Carnivorous

Length: 75cm

Weight: 12kg

Life Expectancy: 5-6 years

Activity: Nocturnal




Behaviour in Captivity


Tasmanian Devils learn that they are always fed in zoos. They anticipate being fed and begin to pace, deviating from normal behaviour. Taronga Zoo tries not to encourage this, by feeding them at random times.


The devils can become stressed in captivity, often wandering continuously in small circles. Zoos attempt to fix this by changing routines.

To encourage the Devils to keep their behavioural adaptations and in order to stop boredom and stress, zoos implement enrichment activities. Taronga Zoo encourages natural behaviour by giving Devils raw bones to chew on, and frozen blood to stimulate their sense of smell.

Overall, the Devils behaviour sometimes deviates from the normal due to stress, boredom, and differences between the devils natural habitat and the enclosure. However, typical behaviour can easily be encouraged using several techniques. Devils behaviour in the wild and in captivity can compare very similarly under the correct conditions.

Human Impacts

In 1830, a bounty for Tasmanian Devils began. This was because they were believed to be taking and eating poultry on farms. The Devils were almost brought to extinction. In 1941, the devils became a protected species, and their population grew steadily again until the outbreak of DFTD.


Tasmanian Devils are currently threatened by Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). It is a type of contagious cancer, spread between the devils when they bite each other. The devils have little genetic variation due to inbreeding, and therefore do not recognise the cancer cells from another devil, as a foreign material in their body. This means their immune system will not fight the cancer. Symptoms of the disease are tumours on the mouth, neck and face, stopping the devil from being able to feed. The life expectancy after contraction is approximately 6 months. DFTD is found across approximately 60% of Tasmania and has caused a 60% decline in devil population since it was discovered in 1996.

Other threats include:

  • Low genetic diversity
  • Introduced predators
  • Roadkill
  • Habitat loss
  • Climate change



Taronga Zoo is working with several other zoos to breed an insurance population of Tasmanian Devils. If needed, they can be reintroduced into Tasmania or mainland Australia.

Devil Island Project:

The devil island project have built two large free-range enclosures for Tasmanian Devils to live in an area free of DFTD. The enclosures are almost entirely self sustaining and are in Tasmania.

Save the Tasmanian Devil Program:

20 devils born in captivity were released back into the wild in Tasmania, with a vaccine against DFTD. The plan is to monitor how the devils reproduce and how their immune system has been helped by the vaccine.

There are calls for the Devils to be reintroduced into mainland Australia, where they once lived. This would allow them to live without the threat of DFTD. This could have a negative effect on Tasmania's tourism.


L. Shannon and R. Lehman, 27th September 2015, ABC News, Australia, 10th November, 2015, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-26/release-of-captive-bred-tasmania-devils-marks-milestone/6807058

Unknown, July 2015, Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, Australia, 10th November, 2015, http://www.tassiedevil.com.au/tasdevil.nsf/news/DF1C161FEB608E6BCA257DB700107BD0

Bruce Englefield, 2015, Devil Island Project Group Inc., Australia, 11th November, 2015, http://www.savethetasmaniandevil.org.au/

Ella Minton, 25th September 2015, Australian Museum, Australia, 13th November, 2015, http://australianmuseum.net.au/tasmanian-devil

Unknown, 2015, National Geographic, USA, 13th November, 2015, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/tasmanian-devil/

Unknown, 2008, Taronga Zoo, Australia, 13th November, 2015, https://taronga.org.au/animal/tasmanian-devil

Unknown, Unknown, Australia Zoo, Australia, 13th November, 2015, https://www.australiazoo.com.au/conservation/projects/tasmanian-devils/

Unknown, 25th March, 2010, Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, Australia, 13th November, 2015, http://www.tassiedevil.com.au/tasdevil.nsf/thedisease/bd2717c762779ee8ca2576f1001d0110

Vanessa Scandizzo and Chris Coupland, September 2005, Richmond College, Australia, 16th November, 2015, http://nswfmpa.org/Husbandry%20Manuals/Published%20Manuals/Mammalia/Tasmanian%20Devil.pdf

Unknown, Unknown, Taronga Zoo, Australia, 16th November, 2015, https://taronga.org.au/animals/breeding-programs/australian-breeding-programs/tasmanian-devil-breeding-program