"Not only does the reintroduction bode well for the recovery of the Tasmanian devil, but as native apex predators and the world's largest carnivorous marsupials, they help control feral cats and foxes that threaten other endangered and endemic species", the Aussie Ark website states. "They're free. They're out there", Tim Faulkner, head of the conservation group Aussie Ark, tells National Geographic.
Tasmanian devils have been released into the wild on Australia's mainland 3,000 years after the feisty marsupials went extinct there, in what conservationists on Monday described as an "historic" step. He recently helped Tasmanian devils return to Mainland Australia for the first time in years. Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) is a deadly and mysteriously contagious form of cancer that has killed so numerous animals that they're now considered endangered, with just 25,000 estimated to remain in the wild.
Aussie Ark, along with a coalition of other conservation groups, said they had released 26 of the carnivorous mammals into a 400-hectare (1,000-acre) sanctuary at Barrington Tops, about 3.5 hours north of Sydney.
In the collective imagination, the Tasmanian devil first and foremost resembles Taz, the cartoon character. This nocturnal marsupial with dark or black fur, which gives off a strong odor when nervous, has been the victim since 1996 of a disease, the transmissible facial tumor of the Tasmanian devil (DFTD), which ends in death in nearly 100% of cases. Ecologically, there is hope that a revived population of Tasmanian devils could help restore balance to the Australian ecosystem, which has been ravaged by introduced species, like feral cats and foxes, endangering native wildlife, especially birds, reports Brian Kahn for Gizmodo.
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Devils have been protected in Australia since 1941, and conservationists have been working to strengthen populations for years, citing their importance as the best predators to curb exotic species such as foxes and wild cats, and again protect small species and biodiversity.
The release, which took place in March and September, is the first of three planned releases.
In response, researchers established a protected population of cancer-free devils in quasi-wild enclosures on the island state of Tasmania.
Some experts question whether the introduction would have that hoped-for level of impact.
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Numerous small mammal populations on the mainland were eradicated when Europeans introduced foxes and cats for hunting in the 19th century, Shute said.
There is also a matter of reputation. While devils tend to feed on small mammals, they're also known to eat the carcasses of cattle and sheep, potentially making them a nuisance to farmers.
"When we make a big intervention like this, we need the consent of the community, especially those affected by the community".
As of now, the demons released this year and the ones expected to be released in the future will not fall into the wild yet. "There needs to be consultation".
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Bringing the species back to Australia is a bright spot in a year marred by the aftermath of fires that killed, injured or displaced an estimated 3 billion animals. "This is just the beginning".