Peel Zoo

Reporter: Jasmine Homer

Halfway between Perth and Bunbury, on the banks of the Murray River, is Pinjarra's Peel Zoo; home sweet home to 150 odd animals, from the cuddly to the cantankerous.

Narelle MacPherson and David Cobbold are Mum and Dad to all of them. Three thousand kilometres from the wilds of Tasmania, this husband and wife team is quietly helping to bring an Aussie icon back from the brink. "How dire is the situation with the Tasmanian Devil in the wild? Diabolical, like really bad. In 1996 there were 250 thousand devils roaming Tasmania, latest survey results about 15 thousand."

Tassy Devils are being knocked off by a deadly facial cancer. It's contagious, incurable and rampant throughout Tasmania.

The devils pass it on to each other when they fight; they're literally biting each other to death. David says "The way that the devil facial tumor is going in the wild in Tasmania, the devil will be excinct."

David and Narelle run one of 26 Tasmanian Devil breeding programs in Australia. This year, ten of the 80 joeys born in captivity were from Peel Zoo. Not bad for a couple of rookies.

Gnasher is one of the Mums and you can't blame her for being a bit strung out. With these three; five months old - all boys. Can't you tell?

Next door, Prada has her hands full with just one. And we can't see the three joeys in Fang's pouch, they're still too small to come out.

"Gnarly is the Dad of all of the joeys and essentially once we see the females going into oestrus we put the male in with each of them for approximately two weeks and there are tell tale signs that we look for but then he just rotates through the three females and then goes back to his own enclosure for a nap. What a life! Yeah some of us are quite envious."

David says "Our overriding philisophy is that boys and girls know how to breed so all we do is look after the environment and make sure they're happy, eating well, clean enclosures, they know what to do from there."

Until there's a cure for the devil cancer, the only hope is captive breeding. It's expensive and there's a lot of competition for funds. To show zoo visitors what we stand to lose, David and Narelle are hand rearing joeys Itchy and Scratchy.

Narelle says "They are adorable, we take them home each day after work and we play with them and they climb in our hair and they bite and they carry on but they are just beautiful."

Their Dad, doesn't turn his nose up at anything. David says "They eat everything, if you chucked a kangaroo carcass in there, the hair, the skin, the bones, everything would disappear."

"So you wouldn't want to put your hand in one of these enclosures? You would have to be nuts to put your hand in a Tassie Devil enclosure. These guys have got the strongest bite to weight ratio of any animal on the planet so it's about 12 hundred PSI which I believe is about three times that of a pit bill."

Speaking of hands...This is Elmo. Narelle says "Sometimes they get a little over excited because I like to hand feed them and so sometimes they just miss so they're lunging towards the mice or the fish and they just miss and hit my hand."

Fancy a headbutt from an ostrich? "We've got a very um... an ostrich, Oscar who's got an attitude problem. He's just a naughty teenage boy."

Bet you didn't know zookeepers double as dining tables.

"How many species of bird do you have in here Narelle? Um, I reckon we've got at least 30-40 species. Everything from chooks to pigeons to black cockies to your every day pink and grey gallahs that make great pets."

You wouldn't call Spotted Quolls - Tex and Tanya the most well mannered of dinner guests either. But David and Narelle love every minute of it.

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