Context. The value of captive breeding for recovery programs of endangered carnivorous mammals is often questioned because of low post-release survival reported for founder animals following translocation.
Aims. The aim of the present study was to test the effect of rearing method on survival and body mass of captive-raised Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) following release on an offshore island. We also compared the post-release diet of these devils with the diet of wild devils on mainland Tasmania, where a similar array of diet items is available.
Methods . Twenty-eight captive-raised devils were released onto the island; 19 had been raised in intensive captive-management facilities (IC) and nine in free-range (22 ha) enclosures (FRE). Survival and body-mass change were compared between IC and FRE for up to 440 days post-release. Devil diet was assessed via scat analysis.
Key results. A high proportion (96%) of the founders survived 1 year post-release. Pre-release captive-rearing method had no effect. Released devils gained an average of 14% of their original body mass, irrespective of captive-rearing method. There was very little difference in the diet of captive-reared devils released onto Maria Island relative to wild mainland devils: Tasmanian pademelon, Thylogale billardierii, was the primary food item for both.
Conclusions. The intensity of captive rearing did not affect the survival of devils released onto Maria Island. This suggests that even devils held in IC facilities retain the innate behaviour required to scavenge and hunt prey, and therefore maintain bodyweight post-release. The lack of any threatening processes on the island is also likely to have contributed to the high survival rate 2 years post-release.
Implications. Our study provided preliminary evidence that the release of captive-raised Tasmanian devils onto off-shore islands is a viable conservation action. Captive-breeding programs and captive-raised founders can play a viable and valuable role in the conservation action plans for recovery programs of endangered carnivorous mammals.