Sunday, 26 March 2017


Tasmanian Devil (Photo: Devil Ark website)

Tasmanian Devils (Sarcophilus harisii) are facing extinction because of the highly contagious Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) which was first diagnosed over 20 years ago.

Since then it has been estimated that populations affected by the spreading disease have declined by more than 90%. DFTD is characterised by cancers around the head and neck which make it difficult for the animals to eat with death resulting from starvation and the breakdown of bodily functions from the cancer.

The rapid spread of the disease led in 2005 to the development of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program – an initiative of the Federal and Tasmanian Governments. A major component of the program has been the establishment of captive populations of Devils in around 30 wildlife parks and zoos around the country and a few overseas in New Zealand and the United States. The Devils in these facilities will serve as insurance populations which it is hoped can be used to repopulate Tasmania once the disease has run its course.

Devil Ark at Barrington Tops about three hours north of Sydney is one of these facilities. It was founded in 2011 with 44 animals on 25 hectares of donated land which replicates the natural Tasmanian environment. 

Devil Ark’s success in breeding has led to an increase in population to 180.  In 2015 22 Devils bred there were reintroduced to Tasmania on the Forestier Peninsula which is fenced off from the mainland. Since then some of these animals have bred and weaned young. 

Devil Ark is seeking to double its population by 2020.  To do this it needs to raise $1.5 million.  It has already received a $250,000 grant from Global Wildlife Conservation, a US organisation, and is hoping to raise more through donations.

The insurance populations in facilities like Devil Ark are reasons for optimism about Devil survival.  Other reasons for optimism are research into a vaccine to immunise against the disease and evidence that some Devils have recovered from the disease.  Another is precocial breeding where Devils in their first year breed and wean their young before they catch the disease and die.
 Leonie Blain

 This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on March 6, 2017.    

Wednesday, 22 March 2017


Switch off to join the future

In 2017, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is celebrating 10 years of Earth Hour and 10 years of progress on tackling climate change.

Earth Hour launched in Sydney in 2007, with 2.2 million people and 2,100 businesses participating in the ‘lights off’ event. Just one year later, Earth Hour became a global phenomenon with over 35 countries, and an estimated 50-100 million people participating. 

2017 will mark the 10th anniversary of Earth Hour as a global phenomenon. It is now celebrated in over 172 countries and over 7,000 cities and towns worldwide. The symbolic hour has grown into the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment, with beyond-the-hour projects and initiatives happening throughout the year.

In Australia, Earth Hour is something that really brings communities together, with 1 in every 4 Australians taking part. In 2016, millions of Australians took part in Earth Hour to show their support for a low pollution, clean energy future.

On Saturday, 25th March, switch off to support progress 
for the next generation. 

Switch off to #JoinTheFuture. 

Sunday, 19 March 2017


In a recent article in The Sydney Morning Herald[1], Kelly O’Shanassy, CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), commented on the latest national State of the Environment report.

She said  that while there were some positive signs such as improvements to the Murray-Darling Basin through increased environmental flows, the “story is grim”. 

The report points to inadequate funding and a lack of effective national coordinated action which has contributed to the current state of our environment. Federal government spending to protect and restore nature in Australia is at its lowest level in a decade and is expected to decline further.  For every $100 of federal expenditure less than 5 cents reaches conservation programs.

She points out that while government spending on the environment is so small it is “preparing to spend $1 billion of taxpayers’ money to help build Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, which, ironically, will be a major source of pollution for decades to come.”

The ACF believes the government needs to increase funding for the environment by at least 400% “if it is to reverse the dramatic decline of Australia’s wildlife, reefs and forests.”

O’Shanassy  points to the economic benefits that a healthy environment brings in sectors such as tourism and agricultural production.

“Nature in Australia is one of the key drawcards for international visitors, worth about $40 billion to the economy based on figures from Ecotourism Australia.”

“Healthy water catchments reduce nutrient loading, salinity and erosion.  Healthy soils increase productivity through better water retention and nutrient cycling.  Increased biodiversity improves native pollinators, which improve yields.  Native species can play a critical role in natural pest control.”

In conclusion O’Shanassy called on political and business leaders to stand up on this issue.

[1] “Neglecting nature is a budget burden”, The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday, March 8, 2017.