Tasmanian devils born in Australia for the first time in 3,000 years
The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is a carnivorous marsupial, well known to be highly aggressive and territorial. Until recently the species was indigenous only to the Island of Tasmania, but efforts to reintroduce the devil to mainland Australia have finally paid off with 7 joeys born at the end of last month at the Barrington Wildlife Sanctuary in New South Wales.
The Tasmanian devil, the size of a Jack Russell Terrier, became the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world, following extinction of the Thylacine in 1936.
With its muscular physique, pungent odour, loud screech and an excellent sense of smell, the Tasmanian devil is a formidable predator with one of the strongest bites per unit body mass of any predatory land mammal.
The newborn are pink and furless, weighing around 20g at birth. As there are only four nipples in the pouch, the fight for survival is highly competitive and the mortality rate is high. Baby devils rapidly, being ejected from their mother’s pouch at around 100 days, weighing roughly 200g. The young are weaned and are able to feed and fend for themselves after nine months.
Tasmanian devils disappeared on the mainland after being wiped out by pack hunting Dingoes (Australian wild dogs), whilst on Tasmania, there are around 25,000 breeding adults left.
The charity, Aussie Ark formed the program nearly 10-years ago to conserve the species and to reintroduce them to the mainland. Aussie Ark’s founded, Tim Faulkner said: ‘We have been working tirelessly for the better part of 10 years to return devils to the wild of mainland Australia with the hope that they would establish a sustainable population”.
‘Once they were back in the wild, it was up to them, which was nerve wracking. We had been watching them from afar until it was time to step in and confirm the birth of our first wild joeys. And what a moment it was’
In 1941 the Tasmanian devil became officially protected and ever since, scientists have contended that earlier concerns over the threat to livestock were overestimated and misplaced.
Devils are fully grown at two years of age and few live longer than five years in the wild. The longest-lived Tasmanian devil ever recorded was Coolah, a male, who lived in captivity over 7 years.
Since the late 1990s, the devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) has drastically reduced numbers, threatening survival of the species, which was, from 2008 declared to be endangered.
Programs undertaken by the Government of Tasmania to reduce the impact of the disease include an initiative to build up a group of healthy devils in captivity.
Leonardo di Caprio has joined the campaign to save the devil, with the Hollywood actor announcing a massive donation of $43 million for the conservation initiative last month, joining forces with the charity Re:wild, with it’s mission to conserve and re-introduce endangered wildlife around the world.