A climate-ravaged Australia seeks to restore balance by reintroducing its most famous predator.
If your frame of reference for Tasmanian devils is the old Looney Tunes character “Taz,” you’re not alone. The real animals are a rarity, found nowadays only on the small island of Tasmania located at the southern tip of Australia. But the carnivorous marsupial once freely roamed the mainland.
Now, Tasmanian devils will be reintroduced to New South Wales. The effort to rewild the continent comes as its ravaged by climate change and a destructive “Black Summer” bushfire season that burned millions of acres.
The historic program, dubbed #DevilComeback, is led by Aussie Ark, Global Wildlife Conservation, and Wild Ark.
Over the last decade, Aussie Ark has helped to raise and eventually release nearly 400 Tasmanian devils. Preparing them for life in the wild is part of the “Rewild Australia” strategy to return the country to its pre-European state, free from feral predators.
So far in 2020, Aussie Ark has released more than two dozen devils into a 400-hectare wild sanctuary. It plans to release 40 more over the next two years.
Rewilding a Country, Repopulating a Species
Tasmanian devils are apex predators. They are both the largest carnivorous marsupials in the world and the strongest when it comes to bite strength. They’re predominantly scavengers, crunching through bones and cartilage. But they can also help control feral cat and fox populations and allow herbivorous species to thrive.
Once common on the mainland of Australia, the introduction of dingoes took away their food sources. Tasmanian devils survived on Tasmania because dingoes never made it there. But another threat nearly wiped out the species. Devil Facial Tumour Disease—the only known contagious cancer—destroyed nearly 90 percent of the devils.
“The re-introduction of devils to mainland Australia is a game-changer for conservation,” Mark Hutchinson, co-founder of WildArk, said in a statement.
If all goes as planned, experts expect the devils to mate, creating a self-sustaining population.
“In 100 years,” said Tim Faulkner, Aussie Ark President, “we are going to be looking back at this day as the day that set in motion the ecological restoration of an entire country.”