For the first time in more than 3000 years, the Tasmanian Devil is living in the wild on the Australian mainland, thanks to a helping hand from Hollywood star Chris Hemsworth.
Last month 11 Tasmanian devils were released at Barrington Tops in the NSW Hunter region by conservation group Aussie Ark, joining 15 released earlier this year.
The Aussie icons were ushered in to their new home by another Aussie icon – Hemsworth – who with wife Elsa Pataky helped release the animals.
Conservationist and Aussie Ark President Tim Faulkner said the release of the tiny terrors was a huge milestone in the ecological restoration of the country.
“This release of devils will be the first of many. We are talking about something monumental, a true landmark in history,” he said.
For ten years Aussie Ark has been building up an “insurance population” of the animals, with the goal of ensuring their survival and reintroducing them into the wild.
“Because of this reintroduction and all of the hard work leading up to it, some day we will see Tasmanian devils living throughout the great eastern forests as they did 3000 years ago,” Mr Faulkner said.
The release was only step one of the organisation’s mission to “rewild” Australia, which has the worst extinction rate in the world.
Two more releases of 20 animals each are planned over the next two years.
The microchipped animals will be monitored and studied, to help conservationists plan more releases and support existing wild populations.
Tasmanian devils vanished from the Australian mainland thousands of years ago, probably because of threats posed by introduced dingoes.
The species nearly disappeared from Tasmania too, after a contagious mouth cancer decimated the population. Just 25,000 devils remain in the wild in the state.
Conservationists hope the released animals, supplemented with planned releases in the next two years, will thrive and breed in the Barrington Tops wildlife reserve.
It is hoped a widespread reintroduction of the devils would help regulate possum and wallaby populations, push back feral cats and foxes, and allow small native animal populations to recover.