Conservationists in Australia are celebrating the birth of seven Tasmanian devil joeys—the first to be born on the mainland in 3,000 years.
As reported in The Land, the seven joeys were born at Barrington Tops National park, a wild sanctuary in New South Wales. Last year, 26 adult Tasmanian devils, including seven reproductive females, were introduced to the park, which measures 988 acres in size. The effort to restore these animals to their former range is a collaboration between conservation groups Aussie Ark, Re:wild, and WildArk.
The purpose of all this is to preserve these fierce animals—the world’s largest marsupial carnivore—but to also keep feral populations of cats and foxes in check. Indigenous Australian hunters and packs of competing dingoes likely contributed to the devil’s demise on the Australian mainland, with surviving populations living exclusively on the island state of Tasmania.
More recently, Tasmanian devils have been affiliated by a contagious facial tumor disease, which has wiped out approximately 90% of the population, according to Aussie Ark. Late last year, research showed the animals may be adapting to contagious cancer, but they’re still in a precarious situation. The devils are listed as endangered on the United Nations’ Red List, and as few as 25,000 individuals remain in the wild.
The birth of the seven joeys is now raising hopes that a viable breeding population can be restored in Barrington Tops, which could eventually lead to free-roaming Tasmanian devils living elsewhere on the continent.
“There is so much at stake here,” Tim Faulkner, president of Aussie Ark, told The Land. “If the devils don’t breed, it’s all over.”
His team had been watching the animals from a distance “until it was time to step in and confirm the birth of our first wild joeys,” he said, “And what a moment it was.”
Born just three weeks into a pregnancy, the rice-sized joeys relocate to the mother’s pouch where they continue to develop. The conservationists only became aware of the joeys when they reached the size of “shelled peanuts,” as Faulkner told The Land. Reuters reported the seven joeys are in good health, and rangers will continue to monitor their health and growth in the coming weeks.
It’s still early days for this ambitious project, and many unknowns remain, such as whether a sustainable breeding population is even possible. With the successful reintroduction of the 26 adult devils—which have adapted quickly to their new digs—and now the birth of seven joeys, this project is off to a very encouraging start.