SYDNEY (AFP) - The two baby Tasmanian devils playing in a glass enclosure at Sydney's Taronga Zoo are not just crowd-pleasers " these furry black creatures could be the saviours their species desperately needs. In a climate-controlled shipping container nearby, some 500 button-sized southern corroboree frogs present the best chance of keeping the striking black-and-yellow striped Australian amphibian from annihilation. For Taronga curator Paul Andrew, the exhibits show the changing role of zoos as they attempt to "salvage" animals from certain extinction due to climate change, habitat loss and deadly introduced species. "There's a kind of rather serious, almost dark side to zoos now in that we are in biological salvage," he told AFP. "We are trying to get things and keep them ticking them over until we allow them a place in their own right on the planet." Zoos around the world have for decades taken on the challenge of conserving the animal kingdom, but Australian fauna presents a unique difficulty because it developed on the island continent in isolation from other competing animals. The Tasmanian devil, which is believed to have been wiped out on mainland Australia hundreds of years ago by dogs and now exists only on the southern island state after which it is named, is a case in point. "They are just not very bright," Andrew said, pointing out that the robust devil, despite its strength, vice-like jaws and ear-piercing shrieks, would likely lose out in competition against dogs. "That's the problem with much of the Australian fauna, it's evolved in isolation." Devils are now part of an intensive conservation programme because of the spread of an infectious facial tumour which gradually disfigures the animal's face to the point it is unable to eat and so dies within months. The tumour is thought to have wiped out some 60 percent of wild devils over the past decade, prompting a group of Australian zoos including Taronga to breed an "insurance population" of 160 animals untouched by the disease. "There's a realistic possibility that the devil could go extinct in the wild in 30, 35 years so our programme has to address that time frame," Andrew said. " Zoos becoming like 'field hospitals in war zones' " "It costs us about 10,000 dollars a year per devil so to run 160 devils is about 1.5 million dollars (about 1.0 million US dollars) a year for the Australian zoos and this means that every devil has to make a contribution to the future of the species." The situation for the southern corroboree frog is even more desperate, with fewer than 200 thought to exist in the wild after being devastated by the arrival of a foreign fungus some decades ago. The species is also particularly at risk from global warming because it survives only in the cooler reaches of Mount Kosciuszko west of Sydney. "It will be extinct in the wild in the very near future," Andrew said. Climate change was potentially "massive" in terms of species extinction and "a very large percentage of the species that we have at the moment could go in a very short period of time," he said. "We are realistically going to have to look at bringing them into captivity, looking after them for a number of generations and then trying to work out a way of getting them back into the wild," he said. The spectre of climate change was noted in October by Adelaide Zoo chief Chris West ahead of a major conference on zoos in South Australia state. Zoos were becoming like "field hospitals in a war zone" as they tried to help endangered animals from being overcome by habitat destruction, over-exploitation, invasive species, pollution and emergent diseases, he said. "But now climate change is looming as a huge new horseman of the apocalypse, whose impact threatens to dwarf that of all the others," West said. Andrew said zoos were probably "hopelessly optimistic" in their efforts to attempt to conserve as much life on the planet as possible. "The trouble with conservation is that you never win. You might keep the species going for another day or another year but it's a continuous battle. And you only have to lose it once."