It has been a long struggle for the Tasmanian devil. Besides having a bad reputation for savage ferocity, the marsupial has had to contend with disease, dingoes, vehicles, and concerns related to other endangered animals.
Once native to Australia, the Tasmanian Devil is thought to have been extinct for at least three thousand years on the mainland. A project called Devil Ark has been working to change that.
Located on Barrington Tops, in New South Wales in Australia, captively bred young Tasmanian Devils are gradually being reintroduced to the wild in 64-hectare fenced enclosures. The 400-hectare park allows groups of devils to be protected from becoming roadkill, predated upon by dingoes, and attempts to keep them somewhat isolated from each other.
The Tasmanian Devil has been considered endangered since 2008 when at least 80 percent of the animals were wiped out by Devil Facial Tumor Disease. A rare form of cancer, it can be spread among animals when they are fighting for females, and over food. It attacks the face and mouth of the animal, leaving it to starve to death.
However, according to The Australian Academy of Science’s Facebook page, there is hope that the disease may have begun to run its course, as “researchers have observed genetic changes that suggest infected devil populations may be evolving the ability to evade the disease.”
Many scientists have championed the Tasmanian Devil as a species that could keep mice, as well as overpopulations of foxes, and feral cats in check. Some Tasmanian farmers appreciate that devils keep diseases and insects from carrion down, but not all scientists are enthusiastic. Some scientists work for zoos that keep enough populations of animals threatened with extinction, others are concerned that funds for Devil Ark could be put towards animals not requiring isolation before being reintroduced to the wild. Andrew Flies of the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, is concerned that Tasmanian Devils may be wiped out once again if they are not kept in protected areas.
New roads built through areas with existing Tasmanian Devil populations have also troubled scientists. Some of the animals are completely black, while others have only a few white markings, which makes them difficult for drivers to see on black bitumen roadways at night. Reduced speeds, driver education campaigns, light reflector installation on roads, and removal of the carrion that devils eat, have made significant improvements.
Other animals that Aussie Ark is working with include the southern brown bandicoot, long-nosed potoroo, eastern quoll, and parma and Bush-tail rock wallabies. As an important keystone animal, Tasmania Devils may help, rather than harm, conservation efforts for other species. By keeping feral cats from attacking species like the southern brown bandicoot, the numbers of other species have risen rather than fallen, according to Chris Johnson at the University of Tasmania. Dr. Johnson has said, The Monthly has reported, “they’re managing perfectly well with the devil.”
Although it is not wise to approach Tasmanian Devils or pick them up—they are known to fight back—they may have developed their fearsome reputation because of the noises they make when eating, especially in groups. Otherwise, they are more likely to start shaking and running when they see humans. But, again, it is not wise to corner them.
Learn more about Tasmanian Devils and Devil Ark
Australian Academy of Sciences. (2020, January 10). Hope for Tasmanian Devils. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/AustralianAcademyofScience/videos/1178944792303271/
AussieArk. (2021). Tasmanian Devils Return to Mainland Australia for First Time in 3,000 Years. https://wildark.org/journals/tasmanian-devils-return-to-mainland-australia-for-first-time-in-3000-years/
ABC News. (2021, May 27). Tasmanian devils give birth in semi-wild sanctuary on the mainland. https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2021-05-27/tasmanian-devils-give-birth-in-semi-wild-sanctuary-on-mainland/100169686
LiveScience. (2021, May 31). Wild Tasmanian devils born on mainland Australia for 1st time in 3,000 years. Future US, Inc. https://www.livescience.com/tasmanian-devils-born-in-australia.html
The Monthly. (2021, September). Return of the devil. https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2021/september/1630418400/anthony-ham/return-devil#mtr
AussieArk. (2021). Devil Ark. https://www.aussieark.org.au/devil-ark/
Washington Post. (2021, May 27). Tasmanian devils are being born on Australia’s mainland after 3,000 years. But can they survive? https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/05/27/tasmanian-devil-australia/
CTV New. (2020, October 5). ‘The stuff dreams are made of’: Tasmanian devils released on Australian mainland.https://www.ctvnews.ca/mobile/sci-tech/the-stuff-dreams-are-made-of-tasmanian-devils-released-on-australian-mainland-1.5133195