Marvel Universe actor Chris Hemsworth and a team of conservationists have released 26 Tasmanian devils into a national park in eastern New South Wales, marking the first time the endangered species have roamed mainland Australia in 3,000 years.
The reintroduction plan has been spearheaded by non-profit organisation Aussie Ark, which have been breeding the marsupials for a decade in an effort to save the species from extinction. Conservationists hope to track the reproductive traits and behaviour of the devils, which have been fitted with radio collars, in anticipation of the 2021 breeding season.
Should the animals take well to their new environment, Aussie Ark hopes to release a further 40 devils over two years.
President of Aussie Ark Tim Faulkner said the benefits of reintroducing the species to the wild are three-fold.
Firstly, the reintroduction is monumental to the survival of Tasmanian devils as a whole. Secondly, the animals — the world’s largest meat-eating marsupials — will control pests, like feral cats and foxes, in turn protecting other endangered and endemic species like quolls, potoroos, bettongs and bandicoots.
The devils will also keep the environment clean from disease by scavenging dead animals and allowing forests to regenerate.
“In 100 years, we are going to be looking back at this day as the day that set in motion the ecological restoration of an entire country,” Faulkner said in a statement. “Not only is this the reintroduction of one of Australia’s beloved animals, but of an animal that will engineer the entire environment around it, restoring and rebalancing our forest ecology after centuries of devastation from introduced foxes and cats and other invasive predators.”
Don Church, the president of Global Wildlife Conservation, one of the organisations partnering with Aussie Ark for the #DevilComeback Project, likewise said the animal’s reintroduction to the wild is “an incredible example of how to rewild our planet and bring back natural systems to the benefit of all life on earth.”
Tasmanian devils initially vanished from mainland Australia due to hunting by Indigeneous Australians and dingos.
Climate change is also thought to have played a role.
A small population of devils were able to survive in Tasmania, an island just over 200 kilometres off the southern coast of mainland Australia, because dingos, which were introduced to Australia 4,000 years ago, never made it across the Bass Strait.
A contagious cancerous tumour, however, has been decimating the devil population in Tasmania for some time.
Introducing an animal species to a previously native environment is known as rewilding. The process has been growing in interest and success in recent years, after the ecological and biodiversity benefits of doing so become more and more apparent.
The process is particularly beneficial for communities who rely on a healthy and functioning natural environment to survive.