In what is a joyful and historic event, the Tasmanian devil has returned to mainland Australia more than 3000 years after it was last seen there. Eleven creatures were recently released into a 400-hectare wildlife sanctuary north of Sydney. This follows a successful assisted trial release with 15 Tasmanian devils, meaning that 26 creatures now call the wilds of mainland Australia home.
The reintroduction of the carnivorous marsupials is seen as an important step in the rewilding of Australia, the country with the world’s worst mammal extinction rate. Tasmanian devils vanished mainly because they were outcompeted by introduced dingoes, which hunt in packs. Dingoes never made it to Tasmania, but a transmissible, painful and fatal disease called Devil Facial Tumor Disease decimated up to 90% of the wild population of Tasmanian devils. As a result, just 25,000 devils remain there today.
Aussie Ark has been working with Tasmanian devils for more than 10 years with the goal of someday returning them to the wild. It has been building an insurance population of the animals and learning everything it can about them, including their reproductive physiology, behavior and ecological needs. It will coordinate two additional releases of 20 devils each over the next two years, and they will be monitored through regular surveys, camera traps and radio collars fitted with transmitters to continually refine the process.
Actors Elsa Pataky and Chris Hemsworth helped to release some of the animals into their new home. Aussie Ark selected the particular devils for reintroduction based on those most suitable to breed with one another without any inbreeding. The wild sanctuary will prevent the spread of disease, feral pests and noxious weeds – and fire, which was catastrophic earlier this year for the country. It will also keep cars out, ensuring that the devils learn not to associate cars with food – an association that could be deadly when they are more widely released.
“Not only is this the reintroduction of one of Australia’s beloved animals, but of an animal that will engineer the entire environment around it, restoring and rebalancing our forest ecology after centuries of devastation from introduced foxes and cats and other invasive predators,” says Tim Faulkner, president of Aussie Ark, which released the devils in partnership with Global Wildlife Conservation and WildArk. “Because of this reintroduction and all of the hard work leading up to it, someday we will see Tasmanian devils living throughout the great eastern forests as they did 3000 years ago.”
For further information, see #devilcomeback's website here.
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