The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, has suffered significant wild population declines in the last two decades, primarily due to Devil Facial Tumour Disease. One strategy implemented to protect the species from extinction has been establishment of an insurance population in selected zoos and parks throughout Australia. Whilst disease processes of wild Tasmanian devils remains an area of active research, comprehensive descriptions of the pathology of captive devils are lacking.
A retrospective study was undertaken to summarise pathological conditions diagnosed ante-mortem and post-mortem in an insurance population of Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) housed at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, Australia between 2007 and 2015.
Complete medical records for 74 Tasmanian devils held at the zoo during the study period were reviewed. The incidence of each identified disease process was defined and associations between diagnoses examined. The influence of factors such as age, gender, origin (wild versus captive), length of time in captivity and parentage was explored for each disease process.
The most commonly identified pathologies included cutaneous mycobacteriosis and a variety of other dermatoses, disorders of the cardiovascular system and neoplastic processes. Confirmed diagnoses not previously reported in Tasmanian devils include brainstem astrocytoma, congestive heart failure manifested as second degree atrioventricular block and infundibular keratinizing acanthoma.
This study expands the understanding of the diseases of captive Tasmanian devils and provides an important base for further development of health monitoring programs for this important population of animals.