Photos By: WildArk
For the first time in 3,000 years, the Tasmanian devil is back in the wild on mainland Australia, a historic moment that is critical to rewild the country with the world’s highest mammal extinction rate. Aussie Ark, in partnership with Global Wildlife Conservation and WildArk, recently released 11 Tasmanian devils onto a 400-hectare (nearly 1,000 acre) wildlife sanctuary on Barrington Tops. Actors Elsa Pataky and Chris Hemsworth, friends of WildArk, helped release some of the wildlife into their new home.
“In 100 years, we are going to be looking back at this day as the day that set in motion the ecological restoration of an entire country,” said Tim Faulkner, President of Aussie Ark, which has been working with Tasmanian devils for more than 10 years with the goal of someday returning them to the wild.
“Not only is this the reintroduction of one of Australia’s beloved animals, but of an animal that will engineer the entire environment around it, restoring and rebalancing our forest ecology after centuries of devastation from introduced foxes and cats and other invasive predators,” continued Faulkner in a statement. “Because of this reintroduction and all of the hard work leading up to it, someday we will see Tasmanian devils living throughout the great eastern forests as they did 3,000 years ago.”
Tasmanian devils vanished entirely from mainland Australia in large part because they were outcompeted by introduced dingoes, which hunt in packs. Dingoes never made it to Tasmania, but across the island state, a transmissible, painful, and fatal disease called Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD)—the only known contagious cancer—decimated up to 90% of the wild population of Tasmanian devils. Only 25,000 Tasmanian devils are remaining in the wild today.
For the last decade, the Aussie Ark team has been building a population of Tasmanian devils and learning everything they can about the animals, including about their reproductive physiology, behavior, and ecological needs. This all led up to the reintroduction, which took place on September 10th, and followed a successful assisted trial release with 15 Tasmanian devils. Twenty-six total now call the wild of mainland Australia home.
Aussie Ark’s Tasmanian devil breeding program is the most successful for endangered species on mainland Australia. Aussie Ark founded the breeding program in 2011 with 44 individuals. Today, it’s home to more than 200, which is about 50% of the entire captive population spread across mainland Australia. Over the years, more than 390 Tasmanian devils have been born and raised at Aussie Ark in a way that encourages and fosters their natural behaviors, helping ensure that they maintain all the skills they need to survive in the wild.
“Without Aussie Ark’s incredible work and perseverance over all of these years, the recent reintroduction would not have been possible and instead of looking forward to the recovery of the species, we would be watching the Tasmanian devil slip into extinction,” said Don Church, President of Global Wildlife Conservation. “This is an incredible example of how to rewild our planet, bringing back the natural systems to the benefit of all life on Earth.”
The Tasmanian devil is one of seven cornerstone species critical to Australia’s ecosystem, including: the Eastern quoll, Brush-tail rock wallabies, Rufous bettong, long-nosed potoroo, parma wallabies, and southern brown bandicoots, all chosen to help restore Australia’s natural balance.
This is the first of three planned reintroductions. In the next two years, Aussie Ark will do two additional releases of 20 Tasmanian devils each. The animals will be monitored through regular surveys, radio collars fit with transmitters, and camera traps. This will give the researchers the opportunity to learn about how the Tasmanian devils are faring, where they are claiming territory, what challenges they are facing, what they are eating, and if they are reproducing. All of this information will help to inform future releases, including in Tasmania and elsewhere on the mainland, to continually refine the process.
“The fires earlier this year were absolutely devastating and threatened to rob us of our hope,” stated Faulkner, referring to the devastating fires across Australia’s eastern seaboard earlier this year that burned more than 72,000 square miles of forest and claimed the lives of at least 34 people and nearly 3 billion animals.
“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,” continued Faulkner.
In addition, Global Wildlife Conservation, Aussie Ark, and WildArk are calling on kids ages 5-10 years old around the world to submit digital postcards to any of four of the featured Tasmanian devils released into the wild. Kids interested in sending a digital postcard can write to Lisa, Lenny, Skittles, or Jacksen. Thirty of the most creative postcards will be chosen to be published in an e-book. Learn more HERE!
Aussie Ark’s partners include: Global Wildlife Conservation, WildArk, Glencore, Australian Geographic, Australian Reptile Park, WIRES, and FAME.
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