More than 3,000 years after they died out, 26 Tasmanian devils have been reintroduced to mainland Australia.
According to the Australian species recovery NGO Aussie Ark, these marsupials, known for their ferocious temperament, have been released into a 988-acre wildlife sanctuary north of Sydney in New South Wales.
These animals, which are the world’s largest carnivorous marsupials, can reduce massive carcasses into tiny pieces in a matter of minutes, thanks to their powerful jaws.
While the exact cause of their disappearance from mainland Australia centuries ago is unknown, it is very likely that indiscriminate human activity and intervention caused their population to dwindle. Their numbers drastically reduced further due to a contagious and fatal form of cancer known as the Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD), which killed around 90% of the population.
Today, there are just 25,000 of these species left in the Australian island state of Tasmania.
“In 100 years, we are going to be looking back at this day as the day that set in motion the ecological restoration of an entire country,” said Tim Faulkner, president of Aussie Ark, which is working extensively on this reintroduction initiative.
“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.”
The team of scientists that reintroduced these species did a soft launch of 15 devils in March to check whether they could adapt to the new environment. Using radio-collars and camera traps to keep an eye on the devils, the team also put out kangaroo carcasses as food for the devils. Only when they were confident that the devils were thriving did they introduce another 11 devils in September this year.
Now, these animals are mostly on their own.
“They’re free. They’re out there,” says Faulkner. “We’ve got some basic means of keeping an eye on them. But essentially, now it’s over to the devils to do what they do.”
Aussie Ark is planning two further reintroductions involving 20 devils each in the near future.
“I really believe that over time, we’ll see the devil become a normal part of mainland Australia,” says Faulkner. “It was here 3,000 years ago. You know, that’s an ecological blink of an eye.”
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