Australia

Back down under: Tasmanian Devils return to Australia's mainland after 3,000 years

Devil Ark manager Dean Reid reacts as Tasmanian Devil joeys climb on him before the first shipment of healthy and genetically diverse devils to the island state of Tasmania leave the Devil Ark sanctuary in Barrington Tops on Australia's mainland, November 17, 2015. The largest group so far of disease-free Tasmanian devils has been released in the wild, as part of plans to save the carnivorous marsupials from a cancer threatening them with extinction. Picture taken November 17.    REUTERS/Jason Reed       TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - GF20000065424

11 Tasmanian Devils have been released back into the wild. Image: REUTERS/Jason Reed

Cordelia Hsu
Writer, Reuters
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  • For the first time in 3,000 years, the Tasmanian Devil has been returned to the wild in Australia’s mainland.
  • Tasmanian Devils were originally wiped out from the mainland after being hunted by dingoes.
  • Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate in the world, but it's hoped the re-introduction will help re-balance the ecology.
  • The first 11 animals were released into a wildlife sanctuary in New South Wales, with help from actors Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky.

The world’s largest surviving marsupial carnivore, the Tasmanian Devil, has been returned to the wild on Australia’s mainland for the first time in 3,000 years.

Actor couple Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky joined conservation groups last month to release 11 of the animals into a wildlife sanctuary in New South Wales, with more releases to follow.

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Devils, the size of a small dog and made famous by the fierce Looney Tunes cartoon character known as “Taz”, were listed as endangered on the United Nation’s Red List in 2008.

Devil Ark manager Dean Reid walks with a pair of Tasmanian Devils joeys on his shoulders before the first shipment of healthy and genetically diverse devils to the island state of Tasmania leave the Devil Ark sanctuary in Barrington Tops on Australia's mainland, November 17, 2015. The largest group so far of disease-free Tasmanian devils has been released in the wild, as part of plans to save the carnivorous marsupials from a cancer threatening them with extinction. Picture taken November 17. REUTERS/Jason Reed  - GF20000065443
Tasmanian Devils are the world’s largest surviving marsupial carnivore. Image: REUTERS/Jason Reed

It is the “the first time in 3,000 years, or thereabouts, that the Tasmanian Devil has roamed mainland forests and as an apex predator, it’s critically important,” said Tim Faulkner, president of conservation group Aussie Ark.

Aussie Ark, which has worked on the programme with Global Wildlife Conservation and WildArk, has been breeding young devils and plans to release 20 more next year, and another 20 the following year.

Faulkner said it was a “monumental” moment in rebuilding Australia’s ecosystem.

“This release of devils will be the first of many,” he said. “We’ve bred nearly 400 joeys, and we’re at the point now that we’re able to harvest some to return to the wild.”

Hemsworth, best known for playing Thor in Marvel Cinematic Universe films, said: “We’ve laid some traps to catch the devils, and then we’re going to release them out into the wild.”

Tasmanian Devils were wiped out from the mainland after being hunted by dingoes, a pack animal, and have been confined to the island state of Tasmania. But numbers there too have dropped since the 1990s due to a facial tumour disease.

Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate in the world and the re-introduction will help re-balance the ecology that was damaged by the introduction of invasive predators, Faulkner said.

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AustraliaFuture of the EnvironmentNature and Biodiversity
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