When Bonnie Whitton (BBus 2014) began managing community partnerships at Federal Group, chances are she didn’t expect to come face-to-face with Tasmanian devils, but every job has its perks.
Part of Bonnie’s role is managing Saffire Freycinet’s partnership with the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research, which brings her in contact with devils. Why? Because eco-conscious visitors to the luxury east coast lodge are helping secure the future of the Tasmanian Devil by adopting one of the five lucky devils who now call Saffire home.
“I am very happy to be supporting this partnership through my role,” Bonnie said.
“We have a team of amazing devil keepers at Saffire and I get to help them bring awareness to the important work of Menzies in securing the future of the Tasmanian devil.”
The funding is also helping with the development of vaccines against the disease that continues to afflict the devil population in the wild.
Senior Research Fellow Dr Andy Flies, who leads the Tasmanian devil immunology research group at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, said they’ve made significant advancements in vaccine research for Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) with help from tourists.
“We’ve made some exciting progress towards a vaccine, which was boosted by COVID-19-related technological developments, and look forward to testing a new experimental vaccine,” Dr Flies said.
“It’s been pleasing to see a growing number of eco-conscious tourists to Tasmania connect with the work we’re doing to save the Devil and donate to our research.”
Dr Flies said his research is funded from a range of sources including visitors to Saffire Freycinet.
Saffire has been supporting the research at Menzies since 2014 and its guests have donated $175,000 towards our quest to develop a vaccine for Devil Facial Tumour Disease.
Saffire is home to a one-hectare, free-range devil enclosure to accommodate mature devils that have been part of the devil breeding program and whose genes are now well represented within the insurance population.
This luxury ‘retirement home’ provides the devils with a safe, secure environment and high quality of life, while also freeing up space for more breeding devils within government facilities.
Saffire General Manager Ross Boobyer said the enclosure allows guests to see the devils in a natural setting and invites them to make a difference to the future of the species by participating in the resort’s devil adoption program.
“When our guests come to Tasmania they love the opportunity to not only see the state’s natural beauty, but contribute to the community, and the Saffire devil program allows them to do just that,” Mr Boobyer said.
“Saffire guests who participate in the devil experience during their stay are invited to adopt one of our devils in support of the Menzies devil vaccine research which sees them kept informed of their progress with regular newsletters.
“We currently have five resident retired devils living a life of luxury at Saffire with the most recent addition, Moltema, arriving earlier this month.”
“It’s a great feeling to be able to put a little bit of luxury in the lives of the devils that have contributed so much to the species through being a part of the breeding program.
Building on contributions from guests, Mr Boobyer said Saffire was now committing an additional $25,000 over the next two years to further support the Menzies research.
“Having built on results from previous DFTD vaccine trials, as well as taking on developments in vaccine technology from COVID, we’re making some exciting progress and we are grateful for the support of Saffire and its guests in helping us to test a new vaccine,” Dr Flies said.
“We’re also committed to figuring out how this new vaccine can be delivered to devils in an edible form such as an oral bait vaccine, so as to maximise vaccine uptake by wild devils.”
Watch the Saffire devils living a life of luxury. Their names are Queen Bee, Motown, Mavis, Melvin and Moltema.
This article featured in the monthly eNews Alumni and Friends. If you are a member of the University of Tasmania community and would like to receive this publication, please provide or update your email address.