Philanthropist Jan Cameron gives Tassie Devils a new safe haven

Tasmanian business woman, conservationist and philanthropist Jan Cameron, donated a large parcel of land for use as a free-range Tasmanian Devil sanctuary. It is hoped the 60 acre fenced enclosure (called Devil Island) will protect the threatened animals from the fatal facial tumour disease while allowing them to roam free and breed.

The property, officially opened on 29 April, is the third Devil Island free range enclosure in the Freycinet Peninsula and is already home to 18 Tasmanian Devils. According to Tasmania’s environment minister Brian Wightman, the 22 hectares will house the devil insurance population under ‘near wild conditions’. Technology such as infra red and remote cameras enable the devils to be monitored with little human interference.

The enclosures have been built in partnership with the state government (which provided $480,000 funding), the community-based organisation Devil island Project, and Jan Cameron. The free range enclosure idea is one of several strategies being used to help secure the long term survival of the devils. An insurance population of 300 disease-free devils is already being housed in zoos and wildlife parks across Tasmania.

Big donations are not new to Cameron, who founded the adventure clothing store Kathmandu in the late 1980s. Since moving to Bicheno on Tasmania’s east coast in 2006, she has rescued over 100 chickens from a Tasmanian battery hen farm, which now run free on her property, and started funding a farm sanctuary for rescued animals. She committed half a million dollars to fund a TV advertising campaign against factory farming and,as well as supporting animal welfare causes, she supports child welfare programs, local schools and hospitals, and environmental causes such as the Devil Island project.

In June 2010 Cameron and fellow-philanthropists Robert and Sandy Purves provided funds for Tasmanian Land Conservancy to buy over 27,000 hectares of native forest estate previously owned by timber company Gunns Limited.

Cameron still has several business interests, including Tasmanian budget retailer Chickenfeed, which she reportedly donates its profits to charities. In a 2010 interview for the ABC’s Australian Story, she said being described by BRW magazine as Australia’s fourth richest woman was a fairly meaningless description for her.

‘The real satisfaction I’ve had is in building a good business. Kathmandu became the most successful outdoor adventure business in Australasia and I think I’ve had the business urge in my blood from a very early age. I was born in Melbourne in the early 50’s in a suburb called Bentleigh which really was as boring as batshit. I was keen to escape.’

Cameron’s escape began when she and some friends discovered Youth Hostels, travelling and bushwalking. Her first hint of entrepreneurship began after she left Melbourne for New Zealand. Using her mother’s old sewing machine, she began making sleeping bags in her bedroom (which doubled as her ‘showroom’). She persisted at the business, despite some close calls with bankruptcy, and sold it in 1987 just before the stock market crashed. She used those funds to open Kathmandu stores in Australia and by 2006 she sold the highly successful business and pocketed $280 million. Since then she has been keen to use her wealth to support a wide range of charities.


Image: Tasmanian Devil [photo by Keres H – creative commons licence]