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Tasmanian devils, back in Australia, keep breeding

June 10, 2022

The mammals died out in mainland Australia some 3,000 years ago. The spread of a facial tumor disease has threatened the mammal's existence entirely but an animal welfare organization is trying to repopulate the species.

Baby tasmanian devils in their mother's pouch, pictured on June 1, 2022 in Australia
Conservationists are trying to repopulate mainland Australia with tasmanian devils, some 3,000 years after dingoes wiped them outImage: dpa/Aussie Ark/picture alliance

Nine Tasmanian devil joeys have been discovered in the pouches of their mothers in mainland Australia, the animal welfare organization Aussie Ark said on Friday.

The organization, which is focused on saving the devil from extinction, also expects that number to rise in the coming weeks, curator Kelly Davis said.

Tasmanian devils died out in mainland Australia after the arrival of dingoes — a species of wild dog — and were restricted to the island of Tasmania.

Their numbers suffered an additional blow on the island — located 240 kilometers (150 miles) to the south of Australia — from a contagious form of cancer known as Devil Facial Tumor Disease, which has killed around 90% of the population since it was first recorded in 1996.

Roughly 3,000 years since the devils disappeared from mainland Australia

Nevertheless, the world's largest carnivorous marsupial is continuing its comeback on the mainland, some 3,000 years after they died out there.

In 2020, Aussie Ark released 28 Tasmanian devils in a sanctuary north of Sydney as part of a push to repopulate the species decimated by the facial tumor disease. Breeding in the wild was confirmed last year for the first time, making this season especially critical.

"There is something incredibly special about checking devil pouches every year. Nothing beats peeking into the mother's pouch and seeing that tiny pink joey," Davis said. "It's even more special out here in the Barrington Wildlife Sanctuary, where we know they are living completely wild, without human intervention."

Tasmanian Devil in Australia
The devils have sharp teeth and strong, muscular jaws that can deliver a powerful biteImage: mariusz_prusaczyk/YAY Images/IMAGO IMAGES

The famously feisty mammals have a coat of coarse brown or black fur and a stocky profile that makes them appear like a baby bear. Most have a white patch on their chest and light spots on their sides or rear end. They have long front legs and shorter rear legs, giving them a lumbering gait.

The devil can reach 30 inches (76 centimeters) in length and weigh up to 26 pounds (11.8 kilograms), although its size will vary widely depending on where it lives and the availability of food. They have sharp teeth and strong, muscular jaws that can deliver a powerful bite.

jsi/msh (dpa)

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