After what’s believed to be thousands of years, there are once again wild Tasmanian devils living on the mainland of Australia.
A total of 26 devils have so far been reintroduced to the wild in the Barrington Tops National Park north of Newcastle.
The latest batch of 11 were introduced to a 400-hectare wildlife sanctuary in the park on September 10 (with the help of Chris Hemsworth and wife Elsa Pataky), joining the 15 others introduced in July.
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The reintroduction program was revealed by animal conservation group Aussie Ark on Monday.
The sanctuary gives the endangered devils space to roam and freedom to adjust to the wild, while also protecting other animals in the area, and allowing conservationists from Aussie Ark to monitor their progress in the lead up to the 2021 breeding season.
The devils have been fitted with radio collars and there are cameras covering the sanctuary for monitoring.
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Tasmanian devils are thought to have disappeared from the mainland around 3000 years ago — hunted to a degree by Aboriginal people at the time but also impacted by the introduction of the dingo, thought to have arrived in what is now called Australia, possibly helped by Indonesian seafarers, around 3500 years ago.
Dingoes never made it to Tasmania, however another threat faces the Tasmanian devil population: a contagious cancer that is decimating the population there.
Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) spreads through bites and causes large tumours on the face and mouth of the animals.
According to Tasmania’s environment department, cancerous devils usually die within a few months of showing symptoms.
The disease has caused a massive decline in the Tasmanian devil population, and the species is now considered endangered.
It’s hoped that a backup population can be maintained on the mainland, free of the contagious cancer, in the event that Tasmania’s existing devil population succumbs to the disease.
Aussie Ark, formerly Devil Ark, has bred more than 400 joeys as part of its “disease free insurance population”.
Some of them have been returned to Tasmania while others introduced to a form of “the wild” on the mainland.
The process of reintroducing animals to areas they were previously endemic is known as “rewilding” and has been steadily gaining interest around the world following the successful return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the US in 1995.