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Tasmanian devils — the first in 3,000 years — born wild in mainland Australia

After almost a decade of conservation work, seven baby devils were born this week

Big John the Tasmanian devil growls from the confines of his tree house.
In this Dec. 21, 2012, file photo, Big John the Tasmanian devil growls from the confines of his tree house as he makes his first appearance at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo in Sydney. After almost a decade of conservation work, seven babies were born this week.
Rob Griffith, Associated Press

For the first time in almost 3,000 years, Tasmanian devils were born in the wild on mainland Australia. The seven babies — called joeys — were born in the Barrington Wildlife Sanctuary just outside of Sydney, reported CBS News and CNN.

  • According to sanctuary rangers per CBS News, the joeys were “in perfect health.”

Tasmanian devils disappeared from mainland Australia when dingoes, a type of wild dog, were introduced. Now, the first small population of devils has been reintroduced in a preserve without dingoes, reported The New York Times.

What are Tasmanian devils?

Tasmanian devils are the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial. They’re apex predators that feed on feral cats, foxes or other small predators, but they’re relatively harmless for humans. said CBS News and CNN.

  • The joeys were born about the size of shelled peanuts after a 21-day pregnancy then crawled into their mother’s pouch where they will remain for coming weeks, according to USA Today.
  • Devils are born pink, hairless, blind and deaf, according to The New York Times.

Wild Tasmanian devils are only found on the southern Australian island of Tasmania, CNN reports.

Why are Tasmanian devils nearly extinct?

Currently, only about 25,000 devils remain. Since first discovered in Tasmania in 1996, over 90% of the population has died due to a contagious and fatal disease known as Devil Facial Tumor Disease, reported CBS News.

  • Scientists have also tried to save devils by developing vaccines, studying genetic variations and breeding uninfected populations for relocation outside of Tasmania, reported The New York Times.

Devils were previously wiped out on mainland Australia with the introduction of dingoes, said CBS News.

The #DevilComeback Project

Aussie Ark, a nonprofit organization working to “rewild” Australia, has spent almost a decade raising devils in preparation for this milestone in the #DevilsComeback Project, reported USA Today.

  • Aussie Ark released 26 adult devils into the sanctuary last year, said CBS News.

“The devils have not only survived, they’ve thrived, every single one of them,” said Aussie Ark president Tim Faulkner per CBS News.

  • The organization plans two more releases of 20 devils each, reports USA Today.

“The ultimate success is a self-regulating, self-sustaining population of mainland devils in Australia,” Faulkner said, according to USA Today. “It’s still the beginning.”

Whether or not the joeys will reach adulthood remains an open question, according to The New York Times.

  • Aussie Ark aims to bring Australia’s ecosystem “to that of pre-European settlement.” They plan to reintroduce quolls, bandicoots, and rock wallabies in the future, reported CBS News.