Getting Wild With… Tasmanian Devils

By Henry Russell, Age 11

Tasmanian devils are rather cute black- or brown-furred mammals that look a little like baby bears. They are the world’s largest meat-eating marsupial, reaching 30 inches in length and weighing up to 26 pounds. They have very sharp teeth that can deliver one of the strongest bites of any mammal. These animals got the name “devil” after early Europeans witnessed their growling, lunging and teeth-bearing characteristics. 

Tasmanian devils were once abundant throughout Australia but now live only on the island of Tasmania. They have faced near extinction multiple times due to illnesses and humans. In the late 1800s, Tasmanian devils were considered a livestock-killing pest, and people attempted to eradicate them. These attempts were almost successful, and it wasn’t until 1941 that the Australian government made the devils a protected species. 

The species faced another near-extinction event in the mid-1990s when they developed an infectious illness called devil facial tumor disease, which killed 140,000 Tasmanian devils, almost the whole population. As a result, the entire species was classified as endangered. Now, conservationist organizations like Aussie Ark have been attempting to bring them back to the Australian mainland for the first time in 3,000 years. The reintroduction of the Tasmanian devil into mainland Australia is part of an effort called rewilding. Rewilding allows nature to heal itself without too much human intervention by enabling life in our ecosystems to thrive and keep invasive species at bay. 

Just one month after Aussie Ark created a sanctuary for the devils on the mainland, researchers saw that the population began growing. Tasmanian devils also protect many small mammals on the continent, such as bilbies, quolls and potoroos. According to Hayley Shute, the life sciences manager for Aussie Ark, “Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate in the entire world.” But rewilding efforts can go a long way to restoring and maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

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