Tasmanian devils, the carnivorous marsupials whose feisty, frenzied eating habits won the animals cartoon fame, have returned to mainland Australia for the first time in some 3,000 years.
“Seeing those devils released into a wild landscape — it’s a really emotional moment,” said Liz Gabriel, director of conservation group Aussie Ark, which led the release effort in partnership with other conservation groups.
The 11 most recently released devils began exploring their new home once they were freed from round, white cages at the nearly 1,000-acre Barrington Tops wildlife refuge in New South Wales state, about 190 kilometers north of Sydney.
Tasmanian devils, which were once called Sarcophilus satanicus or “Satanic flesh-lover,” went extinct in mainland Australia before the arrival of Europeans.
Scientists believe the introduction of carnivorous dingoes, a surge in the indigenous human population, and a devastating dry season cause by a prolonged El Nino caused the devil to migrate to present-day Tasmania, said University of Tasmania ecologist Menna Jones.
“I think any one of those three factors alone probably wouldn’t have caused extinction — but the three of them together likely caused the devil to become extinct on the mainland,” she said.
Devils have been protected in Australia since 1941, and conservationists have worked to bolster their populations for years, citing their importance as top predators who can suppress invasive species — like foxes and feral cats — and in turn protect smaller species and biodiversity.
One of the biggest blows to conservation efforts came in the 1990s when a communicable cancer called devil facial tumor disease — which passes between devils through their bites while mating and causes large tumors that prevent them from eating — reduced the population from some 140,000 to as few as 20,000.
For now, the devils released this year and those expected to be released in coming years won’t go into the wild just yet.
Instead they will receive supplementary feedings and be monitored by remote cameras, with some devils tagged with GPS trackers to learn more about how they adjust in their new environment, said Gabriel.
“We dream of many more sanctuaries with devils in them and really growing the numbers of the species to protect that species, but also the animals in the environment around them,” she said. “This is just the beginning.”
[Sourced from Agencies]