THE Tasmanian devil is living in the wild on the Australian mainland for the first time in 3000 years, as part of a campaign that is intended to "rewild" the country, which has the world's worst mammal extinction rate.
Not for profit environmental organisation Aussie Ark partnered with Global Wildlife Conservation and WildArk to release 11 Tasmanian devils into its 400-hectare wildlife sanctuary at Barrington Tops last month.
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Aussie Ark president Tim Faulkner said the area was chosen because of its similarities to Tasmania.
"Environmentally it's like a slice of Tasmania," Mr Faulkner said. "Temperature wise and environment wise they're very, very similar... so it is the perfect location for devils to be."
Mr Faulkner said the organisation had been working with Tasmanian devils for more than 10 years, with the goal of someday returning them to the wild.
"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," Mr Faulkner said.
"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.
"Because of this reintroduction and all of the hard work leading up to it, someday we will see Tasmanian devils living throughout the great eastern forests as they did 3000 years ago."
WildArk ambassador and actor Chris Hemsworth and his wife and actor Elsa Pataky helped release some of the animals into their new home.
Aussie Ark said in a statement Tasmanian devils vanished entirely from mainland Australia largely because they were "outcompeted" by introduced dingoes, which hunt in packs.
While dingoes never made it to Tasmania, the transmissible, painful and fatal Devil Facial Tumor Disease decimated up to 90 per cent of the state's wild population. Just 25,000 devils are left in the wild in Tasmania today.
Aussie Ark said it had been building an "insurance population" of devils over the last decade and deepening its knowledge of the animals, including about their reproductive physiology, behaviour and ecological needs.
The 11 animals were reintroduced at Barrington Tops on September 10, following an assisted trial release of 15 animals at the spot, meaning 26 are now living in the wild.
Aussie Ark said it selected the particular devils for reintroduction based on those most suitable to breed with one another without any inbreeding.
"The wild sanctuary will prevent the spread of disease, feral pests, noxious weeds and fire, which was catastrophic earlier this year for the country," the statement said.
"The wild sanctuary will also keep cars out, ensuring that the devils learn not to associate cars with food-an association that could be deadly when they are more widely released."
The September release is the first of three planned re-introductions.
Aussie Ark said in the next two years it would complete two additional releases of 20 devils each, again at Barrington Tops.
The animals will be monitored through regular surveys, radio collars fit with transmitters and camera traps.
"This will give the researchers the opportunity to learn about how the devils are faring, where they are claiming territory, what challenges they are facing, what they are eating, and whether they're reproducing," the statement said.
"All of this information will help to inform future releases, including in Tasmania and elsewhere on the mainland, to continually refine the process."
Mr Faulkner said the bushfires earlier this year were "absolutely devastating and threatened to rob us of our hope".
"This is our response to that threat of despair: come what may, ultimately we will not be deterred in our efforts to put an end to extinction and to rewild Australia."
Aussie Ark said its Tasmanian devil breeding program was the most successful conservation breeding facility for the endangered species on the mainland Australia.
It said it started in 2011 with 44 and now has more than 200, which is about half of the entire captive insurance population across mainland Australia.
'"Over the years, more than 390 devils have been born and raised at Aussie Ark in a way that encourages and fosters their natural behaviors, helping ensure that they maintain all the skills they need to survive in the wild," the statement said.
Global Wildlife Conservation president Don Church said the devil reintroduction would not have been possible without Aussie Ark's perseverance.
"Instead of looking forward to the recovery of the species, we would be watching the devil slip into extinction," Mr Church said.
"This is an incredible example of how to rewild our planet, bringing back the natural systems to the benefit of all life on Earth."
WildArk co-founder Mark Hutchinson said the re-introduction of Tasmanian devils to mainland Australia was a "game-changer for conservation","not only building a robust, genetically healthy population outside of Tasmania, but also paving the way for future introductions that the Aussie Ark team are already mapping out".
Aussie Ark said being native apex predators and the world's largest carnivorous marsupials, Tasmanian devils also help control feral cats and foxes that threaten other endangered and endemic species. Because they are scavengers, they help keep their home clean and free of disease.
Aussie Ark said it plans to reintroduce another six "cornerstone species critical to Australia's ecosystem" to its wild sanctuary over the coming years, the Eastern quoll, Brush-tail rock wallabies, Rufous bettong, long-nosed potoroo, parma wallabies and southern brown bandicoots.
UN Environment Goodwill ambassador, actor, entrepreneur and Lonely Whale co-founder Adrian Grenier will interview Aussie Ark president Tim Faulkner live on Instagram at 7pm tonight, October 5.
Global Wildlife Conservation, Aussie Ark and WildArk are calling on children aged up to five to submit digital postcards to any of four of the featured Tasmanian devils released into the wild sanctuary.
Thirty of the most creative postcards will be published in an e-book. Children can write to adventurous Lisa, timid Lenny, hangry Skittles, or sassy Jacksen.
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