Tasmanian devils were released into the wild on Australia's mainland for the first time in 3,000 years after they went extinct there, in what conservationists hailed as a "historic step" to "rewild" Australia.
Aussie Ark, an animal conservation organization, along with a coalition of other similar groups, revealed on Monday that they had released 26 of the carnivorous marsupials into a 400-hectare (roughly 1,000-acre) sanctuary at Barrington Tops, about 3.5 hours' drive north of Sydney.
Tim Faulkner, the president of the organization, said the "historic" releases in July and September were the first of three planned introductions in a project similar to the move to return wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the United States in the 1990s.
Over the next two years, Aussie Ark is planning two additional releases of 20 devils each.
"If all goes as planned, the animals will breed and produce joeys, eventually resulting in a self-sustaining wild population," the press release said.
Conservationists will monitor the creatures through surveys, radio collars fitted with transmitters, and camera traps to track where they are, what they're eating and whether they're reproducing.
Ravaged by dingoes
Studies suggest that Tasmanian devils were pushed to extinction in mainland Australia 3,000 years ago, partially due to the introduction of dingoes.
"The devils survived only on the island of Tasmania, where the dingoes never reached," Aussie Ark said.
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They are now classified as endangered, after a "transmissible, painful and fatal" facial tumor disease devastated the population on Tasmania. It is estimated that fewer than 25,000 Tasmanian devils still live in the wild, down from around 150,000 before the disease "decimated up to 90% of the wild population."
Tasmanian devils, which weigh up to 12 kilograms (26 pounds), making them the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world, typically prey on other animals or scavenge carcasses.
The furry carnivores are not considered to be dangerous to humans or livestock, but will defend themselves if attacked and can cause serious injury. The animals, also known for their loud growl, typically have a coat of brown or black fur and a white stripe or patch on their chest.
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