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Tasmanian devils reintroduced to the Australian mainland after 3,000 years

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Tasmanian devils, the carnivorous marsupials whose exuberant and frantic eating habits have won the fame of animal cartoons, have returned to mainland Australia for the first time in nearly 3,000 years.

“Seeing those devils set free in a wild landscape – it’s a truly thrilling time,” said Liz Gabriel, director of the Aussie Ark conservation group, who led the release effort in collaboration with other conservation groups.

The 11 most recently freed devils began exploring their new home once they were released from the round, white cages in the nearly 1,000-acre Barrington Tops Wildlife Refuge in the state of New South Wales, approximately 190 kilometers (120 miles). north of Sydney.

Tasmanian devils, who were once called Sarcophilus satanicus or “Satanic meat lovers”

;, 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 caused by a prolonged El Nino caused the devil to migrate to present-day Tasmania, the University of Tasmania ecologist said. Menna Jones.

  • Big John the Tasmanian devil growls from the confines of his treehouse as he makes his first appearance at Sydney's Wild Life Sydney Zoo in 2012. Tasmanian devils, carnivorous marsupials whose exuberant and frantic eating habits have won cartoon fame animated animals, returned to mainland Australia for the first time in approximately 3,000 years. (Photo AP / Rob Griffith, File)
  • Actors Chris Hemsworth, left, and Elsa Pataky help free Tasmanian Devils into the wilderness in Barrington Tops, New South Wales, Australia. (Cristian Prieto / WildArk via AP)
  • Tasmanian devils are released into the wild in Barrington Tops, New South Wales state, Australia on September 10, 2020 (Cristian Prieto / WildArk via AP)
  • Children help free Tasmanian devils in Barrington Tops, New South Wales state, Australia, September 10, 2020. Tasmanian devils, the exuberant marsupials who have become famous thanks to their cartoon depiction, recently made the their return to mainland Australia for the first time in about 3,000 years. (Cristian Prieto / WildArk via AP)
  • Tasmanian devil pups look for food during a feeding session in their enclosure at Sydney's Taronga Zoo in 2009. (AP Photo / Mark Baker, File)

“I think any of these three factors alone probably wouldn’t have caused extinction, but the three together probably caused the devil’s extinction on the mainland,” he said.

Devils have been protected in Australia since 1941, and conservationists have worked for years to strengthen their populations, citing their importance as top predators that can suppress invasive species – such as 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 transmissible cancer called devil face tumor disease – which passes between devils through their bites during mating and causes large tumors that prevent them from eating – it reduced the population from around 140,000 to as few as 20,000.

In response, the researchers established a cancer-free devil insurance population in wild enclosures in the Australian island state of Tasmania. But the July and September releases are the first time that stocky mammals, all of which tested negative for contagious cancer, are released on land in a protected wilderness.

Gabriel said Aussie Ark aims to have devils eventually live in unprotected areas in mainland Australia, with the hope that the devils will help keep cat and fox populations in check.

Some experts wonder if the introduction would have the desired level of impact.

Nick Mooney, an Australian conservationist who has worked with Tasmanian devils for nearly 40 years, said wild cats will likely return for a food source rather than relying on carrion competing with devils.

“There is an argument that putting devils in a situation where other carnivores are prevented from wiping out is that those animals, like cats and foxes, will simply start hunting. You could actually create a retention problem where it didn’t exist before, ”Mooney said.

There is also a question of reputation. Although devils tend to feed on small mammals, they are also known to eat the carcasses of cattle and sheep, making them potentially annoying for farmers.

“When doing big interventions like this, you need community consent, especially those involved in the community,” Jones said. “Consultation is required.”

For now, the devils released this year and the ones expected to be released in the next few years will not go out into the open yet. Instead, they will receive additional feedings and be monitored by remote cameras, with some devils tagged with GPS trackers to learn more about how they fit into their new environment, Gabriel said.

“We dream of many more sanctuaries with devils in them and the number of species growing to protect that species, but also the animals in the environment around them,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”

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