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A hell of a time for keeper

AAP

OUT at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Sarah Mulhall has a devil of a job.

Not that she's complaining.

After working for eight years as an animal keeper, she has become a Tasmanian devil specialist.

In the wild, Tasmanian devils are plagued by a virulent facial cancer which has wiped out 85 per cent of the population since the first outbreak in 1996.

In eastern parts of the state where the disease was first found the figure is even higher.

And not only does Ms Mulhall perform a vital role helping to save the animals from extinction, she absolutely loves those little guys.

“I'm the first to say I'm enthralled,” she said. “They become your whole entire existence.”

While the devils may look fierce - the facial cancer is spread through biting other animals - Ms Mulhall said they are easy to love, with strong personalities and individual likes and dislikes.

“Markey is as sweet as sugar with me.

“But he'll chase another keeper out the door.”

A plan to create an “insurance population” led to 170 devils being kept in animal sanctuaries throughout Tasmania and the mainland.

The purpose is to quarantine disease-free devils and develop a breeding program to create greater genetic resistance to the disease.

Taronga Zoo and the Australian Reptile Park also have “insurance populations”.

Devils across Australia - including at Currumbin Sanctuary - are matched by a stud book manager to ensure genetic diversity, but sometimes the chemistry just isn't right and Ms Mulhall has had to be on hand through the night to separate warring lovers.

“I spend a lot of time in the dark with the animals trying to ensure they're breeding,” she said.

With eight devils, Currumbin Sanctuary has one of the smaller groupings, but has already successfully bred six young, including a second-generation joey.

Their release into the wild is a “long-term project” with 500 regarded as a viable number.



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