Tazmanian Devil Comeback
For the first time in 3000 years, Tazmanian Devils are born into the wild of mainland Australia
On the Brink
The ferocious Australian marsupial, immortalized, and somewhat misrepresented as an unforgettable "whirling dervish" cartoon character, has been teetering on the edge of global extinction.
The Tasmanian devil has been extinct on mainland Australia for thousands of years, due to a non-native predator, the dingo- which is thought to have been brought from Borneo and Sulawesi 5000 years ago.
The rising waters that separated the island-state, Tasmania, from the Australian mainland long ago are believed to have saved the Tasmanian devil from complete eradication.
While the population of devils on Tasmania numbered an estimated 150,000 in 1996, their numbers dropped alarmingly low by 2003, to a mere 10,000 - 25,000.
This was mostly due to a contagious form of cancer known as "devil facial tumor disease", in combination with the increasing number of animals being hit and killed by automobiles.
The disease causes large tumors to grown on the animals' heads and necks, interfering with their ability to eat, and causing death by starvation within months. It is highly contagious among the colony.
The Tasmanian devil was listed as an endangered species by Tasmanian government officials in May 2008.
What is a Tasmanian Devil, exactly?
Tasmanian devils are the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world and have a reputation for short tempers and engaging in feeding frenzies.
They emit a terrifying, unearthly scream from within the bush in the evenings, which is thought to be an attempt to scare away other animals from a possible food source.
European settlers gave them the name "devils" upon hearing this sound at night and fearing themselves surrounded by unseen demons.
Although fairly small in size, weighing on average, only twenty-five pounds, with bodies 20–30" long, their ferocity gives them an advantage… as do their tremendously powerful jaws.
Tasmanian devils have the strongest bite for their size of any mammal in the world. They can crush bone, bite through metal cages to get to livestock, and their teeth, like dogs' teeth, never stop growing.
They can climb trees before they are fully grown - and often do to escape the adult devils that will dine on the young if the mood strikes them. They can also swim, and run at speeds of 15 mph for as long as sixty minutes.
Tasmanian devils eat only meat, existing as hunters and scavengers, and are thought to help stop the spread of disease by consuming road kill and other carrion.
They eat every part of the animals they find, even the bones, and have a rather gruesome habit of sleeping inside larger carcasses after a meal…waking, and beginning to eat once more.
The Success Story
Tasmanian devils are an important native apex predator. Their reintroduction into mainland Australia will help control populations of feral cats and foxes that hunt other endangered species.
In 2020, Australian wildlife officials began the first step of reintroducing the Tasmanian devil to the mainland by transferring 26 healthy animals to a wildlife reserve in New South Wales, in separate sets, with the final eleven being released last September.
The organization behind the effort is called Aussie Ark, and they made a joyous announcement on May 31, 2021, confirming the existence of seven "joeys" inside the mothers' pouches.
"We have been working tirelessly for the better part of 10 years to return Devils to the wild of mainland Australia with the hope that they would establish a sustainable population. Once they were back, it was entirely up to them. We had been watching them from afar until it was time to step in and confirm the birth of our first wild joeys. And what a moment it was!"- Tim Faulkner, president of Aussie Ark
The joeys are described as each being only the size of a peanut, but have already proven themselves to be champions.
Adult females give birth to between twenty and forty joeys at once, who start their lives as small as a grain of rice. Since the mother only has four teats within her pouch, it's a race for survival from the beginning.
Four lucky winners make it to the safety of the pouch, and the rest perish. Four to five months later, the baby devils will emerge, but will remain with their mother for another six months.
Aussie Ark is hopeful that this will be the first step in introducing a healthy lineage of Tasmanian devils to mainland Australia.
"Having a population of devils away from the diseased landscape in Tasmania is crucial."- Tim Faulkner
The organization has plans for two more releases of twenty devils each into the 988-acre Barrington Wildlife Sanctuary in the coming year, as well as reintroducing "other cornerstone species" in an effort to rewild the area.
The Big Picture
It is estimated that perhaps three billion animals were killed in Australia's devastating 2019–20 wildfire season, making this successful venture an even sweeter victory, as noted by Tim Faulkner.
"This is our response to that threat of despair: come what may, ultimately we will not be deterred in our efforts to put an end to extinction and to rewild Australia."- Tim Faulkner, president of Aussie Ark
This small victory for the Tasmanian devil could well have a ripple effect, aiding the survival of Australian wildlife in general.
"When you protect a keystone species, you then inevitably ensure the survival of all those other life forms that are stitched and integrated into the ecosystem that that creature depends upon."- Jeff Corwin, wildlife biologist and conservationist
Don Church, president of the Global Wildlife Conservation charity, which also supports the Aussie Ark project, adds this:
"This doesn't just bode well for this endangered species, but also for the many other endangered species that can be saved. Tasmanian devils are ecosystem engineers that can restore and rebalance the wild to the benefit of other native wildlife, to the climate, and to people."- Don Church, GWC president.
If you want to read about the noble efforts of Aussie Ark, or donate to their cause, see their website here.
Or check out their Instagram page here, and see some adorable pictures!
A video of Aussie Ark (below), describes their success and their mission going forward, with video footage of the tiny joeys in the pouch: