The Tasmanian devil disappeared from mainland Australia 3,000 years ago, but the birth of seven pups has opened the door for this unique animal to reclaim its old habitat beyond the South Australian island that remains its main home.
The Australian government’s most recent projects in biodiversity conservation, such as Towards Zero Extinction presented last year, have focused on the recovery of the Tasmanian devil, which has been listed as a threatened species since 1941.
Tasmanian devil back in Australia
Over the past decade, various environmental organizations such as WildArk, Wildlife Conservation and Australian Ark have worked to bring the Tasmanian devil back to mainland Australia.
Two and a half years ago, these organizations organized an event attended by Australian actor Chris Hemsworth and his partner, Spanish actress Elsa Pataky, both of whom, regular WildArc collaborators, were the protagonists of 11 Demons Unleashed in Barrington, north of Sydney. from Tasmania in the 400 hectare wildlife sanctuary in the Tops.
“100 years from now, we will remember this day as the day that launched the ecological restoration of an entire country,” said Tim Faulkner, President of Australian Arch. “This is not just the reintroduction of one of Australia’s beloved animals, but an animal that is helping the whole of its surroundings, restoring and rebalancing our forest ecology after centuries of devastation by the arrival of foxes and cats and other invasive predators. Design the environment. Because of this reintroduction and all the hard work that has gone into it, one day we will see Tasmanian devils living in the great forests of the East as they did 3,000 years ago.”
Well, it took only two years, not 100 years, to verify that, at least for now, the project to reintroduce the Tasmanian devil to continental Australia has borne its first fruits. “Once they were back in the wild, it was up to them, which was stressful. We were monitoring them until it was time to intervene and confirm the birth of our first wild calves. And what a moment !” Faulkner corroborated himself in the statements collected by Peeples about the birth of the litter.
“The fact that the adults have adapted so quickly is remarkable, and the pups are one of the most convincing signs that the reintroduction of Tasmanian devils is working,” added Re:Wild’s Dawn Church.
Hemsworth and Pataky with various Tasmanian Devils – Source: WildArk
And it is that the presence of Tasmanian devils in mainland Australia is not just something symbolic, as Faulkner said, but something practical. It is about helping to control populations of feral cats and foxes that are a threat to other endemic and endangered species.
Because we must not forget that the Tasmanian devil is the world’s largest scavenger, measuring about the same as a small domestic dog and capable of exerting 42 kg of force with its jaws, which is unusual for its size. And although it prefers to feed on dead animals, it is capable of attacking other rivals of similar size, such as cats and foxes.
Tasmanian devil: why did it disappear from Australia?
Tasmanian Devil – Source: Pixabay
If this was its natural habitat, what happened 3,000 years ago that this marsupial disappeared from mainland Australia and became restricted to the island of Tasmania? A study published in late 2021 in the journal Ecography and authored by several researchers from the University of Tasmania sought to determine whether climate change was the main reason for its disappearance.
“Too Hot for the Devil?” the researchers thought. and that the possible role of climate change in the extinction of animals in the late Quaternary has been highly debated, although “few studies have examined its direct effects on animal physiology to assess whether Past climate change may now have a significant impact on the extinction of species.
Using mechanistic niche models of energy and water requirements for thermoregulation and indices of plant drought stress based on soil moisture to indirectly represent food and water availability, the study concluded that negative impacts There is no evidence of. The Tasmanian devil during its extinction.
In this sense, the researchers conclude that cultural and demographic changes in human populations and competition from the dingo, the Australian wild dog, may have been behind the extinction of the Tasmanian devil in mainland Australia.
Facial cancer, a current threat to the Tasmanian devil
Tasmanian Devil – Source: Unsplash
In addition to climatic fluctuations, the presence of rival predators and humans in their old habitats, there is another recent threat to this animal: facial cancer. Since the first case was documented in 1986, the disease, known as DFT1, began affecting various specimens of Tasmanian devils, spreading rapidly due to a singular feature: it is a contagious cancer that can be transmitted through animal bites. and is spread by wounds, which are sustained by animals during conversation, fighting and mating.
In its time, it was noted that it was responsible for 80% of the decline of the species, but its evolution made it endemic, reducing its impact and reducing mortality according to various studies. .
The new problem, suggested by this Science study, is the development of a second transmissible facial cancer called DFT2, which has evolved and mutated more rapidly than is believed to be a high-level threat to the species.
investigator max stamnitz who is currently working at Barcelona’s Center for Genomic Regulation, is the lead person in charge of this study which seeks to deepen the knowledge of what is considered to be the main threat to the future of the Tasmanian devil, while it fights for it. return to their natural habitat on mainland Australia.