Tasmanian devils settle into Auckland zoo

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 12:15 21/04/2014
SEAN WILLIS/Fairfax NZ

Four Tasmanian Devils are curiously exploring their new habitat at Auckland Zoo.

Tasmanian devil
FEELING STEAMED? One of the zoo's new devils shows off its red ears, a sign of excitement or distress. You decide.

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An Aussie furball with a devilish reputation is spinning up a storm at Auckland Zoo.

Four mischievous Tasmanian devils made their first appearance over Easter, but their arrival was due to tragic circumstances.

A rare contagious cancer has wiped out the Tasmanian devil's population by 80 per cent in Australia.

Auckland Zoo mammal collection development manager Bruce Murdock said the species was critically endangered because of the facial cancer.

"It's not the cancer that kills them, it's the tumours that enlarge and cause issues with eating and breathing normally. They end up dying within three or four months."

In the worst case scenario - where all the wild devils succumb to cancer - a captive population of more than 500 could be released into safe zones, he said.

Auckland Zoo is one of three New Zealand wildlife parks to home the devils as part of a conservation programme.

The zoo has thee male and one female Tasmanian devils.

But don't expect the devils to act like their famous cartoon cousin.

"They don't stand on their feet and spin around in the enclosure."

However, their screeches and screams were quite unique, he said.

Visitors to the zoo would find the devils most active in the morning and evenings, while devils prefer to sun themselves during the day.

There were no plans to breed the devils. Murdock said the first goal was to get them settled in to their new enclosure.

Pregnant female devils have more than 20 babies, called joeys or imps, but only the fittest four survive.

That is because the mother devil has only four teats for feeding.

Auckland Zoo hopes to raise awareness of the devil's plight through the new exhibit.

Fun Tasmanian devil facts

• They are the largest carnivorous marsupials in the world

• They are very smart, cheeky, social and mischievous

• They sneeze right before fighting

• Early Australian settlers thought their scream sounded like "devils" in the night

• When excited or distressed, blood flows to the ears, turning them bright red

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- Fairfax Media

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