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Tas devils face new battleground in wild

AAP logoAAP 31/08/2016 Andrew Drummond

Released by their captors overnight in the middle of a northeast Tasmanian military training ground, theirs is a tale of survival.

Thirty-three healthy Tasmanian devils, free from a facial tumour disease which has decimated numbers of the endangered carnivorous species, are now running free at Stony Head.

And while they might have to duck and weave some crossfire, the devils are a safe distance from traffic and a major threat - roadkill.

"We've already got an incumbent population of wild devils here so we know that the habitat is good," Save the Devil Program manager Sam Fox said on Wednesday after the release.

"It's a good place because it's restricted access to the public so some of the threats that devils would face out in the wider environment like vehicles, dogs - they're not going to face on this site."

The devils will share the military site with wallabies and wombats, but there will also be some practice combat for them to avoid.

"That's an interesting question, whether this site, being a military site, would be dangerous to devils - and I must admit I think the military were a little concerned - but what people need to remember is that this is a wildlife site.

"There is a small area that is an active firing range but the threat to wildlife is very low."

The critters have been tagged and researchers will monitor their progress and the long-term effectiveness of the vaccine in the wild.

The latest release coincides with the publication of new research showing that in addition to the vaccine trials, devils are evolving to build a genetic resistance to the deadly facial tumour disease.

University of Tasmania wildlife ecologist Associate Professor Menna Jones is one in a team of global researchers who have been studying the impact of the disease, which has wiped out some 80 per cent of the devil population since it was first detected in 1996.

Collections of DNA samples over several years has shown significant changes suggesting a resistance to the disease.

"We hope that in future, disease-free devils with apparently (disease)-resistant DNA can be bred to enhance the genetic diversity of insurance populations, in case devil reintroductions are needed in future," Prof Jones said.

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