Australia is experiencing a very unique baby boom. Tasmanian devils have just been born in the wild on the continent’s mainland for the first time since they disappeared there about 3,000 years ago.
Last year,26 of the adult carnivorous marsupials into a sanctuary at Barrington Tops, north of Sydney. It marked the first step in their attempt to establish a sustainable population of the endangered species, which has been decimated by illness in its remaining habitat on the island of Tasmania.
They hoped their efforts, over a decade in the making, would achieve similar success as theNational Park in the United States in the 1990s.
“There’s so much at stake here. We’ve done everything we can, but if the devils don’t breed, it’s all over,” conservation group Aussie Ark president Tim Faulkner said in a statement.
Researchers have been studying the ferocious animals from afar since their release. This week, they celebrated the birth of seven Tasmanian devil joeys in the nearly 1,000-acre Barrington Wildlife Sanctuary.
Rangers inspected the females’ pouches and found the tiny joeys “in perfect health,” Aussie Ark said. They plan to perform additional health checkups in the coming weeks.
Tasmanian devils, which weigh up to 18 pounds full-grown and are not typically dangerous to humans, disappeared entirely from the Australian mainland after the introduction of dingoes, a type of wild dogs which hunt in packs.
The remaining population on the island state of Tasmania has been devastated by a contagious and fatal disease known as Devil Facial Tumor Disease, which first struck in the mid-1990s. It has killed around 90% of the population, and there are now fewer than 25,000 left.
“Having a population of devils away from the diseased landscape in Tasmania is crucial,” Faulkner said. Conservationists are thrilled by the progress so far.
“This doesn’t just bode well for this endangered species, but also for the many other endangered species that can be saved if we rewild Australia, the country with the world’s worst mammal extinction rate,” said Don Church, president of the group Re:wild.
Aussie Ark plans to release more Tasmanian devils into the sanctuary, along with quolls, bandicoots and rock wallabies. Eventually, conservationists hope to introduce them to unfenced areas.
“The devils have not only survived, they’ve thrived, every single one of them,” Faulkner said. “We have watched them establish territories, we’ve watched interactions, two sisters came back together and started living together, and we have watched them breed.”