Dining with Dasyurids

Healthy populations of threatened dasyurid marsupials at Taronga like the Tasmanian devil and the northern quoll are crucial for ongoing wild reintroduction programs. Work over the past three years using a geometric framework for nutrition has allowed us to understand the preferences of dasyurids for protein, lipid and carbohydrates, resulting in optimized diets, specific not only for a species, but also for individuals of a species based on their reproductive state and age-related activity levels. Success of this project has led to extension of feeding trials to other Australian mammals including squirrel gliders and echidnas.

Tasmanian devils: when presented with high protein, high carbohydrate and high lipid (fat) content food, non-breeding females preferred a diet of the highest tested protein content (50% on an energy basis). Of the 6 females in the trial, two did not accept the diets at all, and it is hypothesised that foods with lower carbohydrate content and/or higher protein content may be more suitable. Diet trials will be further refined and coupled with digestive health monitoring.

Fat-tailed dunnarts: a blend of high fat and high protein food was selected by dunnarts. Dietary choices differed according to age, with older dunnarts preferring more fat in their diet.

Short-beaked echidna: Based on digestibility values and overall clinical health, a new insectivore diet was considered an acceptable replacement for the traditional carnivore diet fed to captive echidnas. The new diet will also be used for wild echidnas undergoing rehabilitation at zoo hospitals including those at Taronga and throughout Australasia.