Melbourne, Australia – Babies around a month old were about the size of a peanut without a shell.
However, it was a momentous find by conservationists zipping through a dense forest of eucalyptus in the early morning fog, hoping to find them. About 3,000 years after Tasmanian devils were slaughtered on the Australian mainland, seven babies were born earlier this month in their natural home.
“It was very touching,” said Tim Faulkner, president of Aussie Ark, the conservation group that has spearheaded attempts to recreate groups of demons long after they were wiped out on the continent, most likely by Australian wild dogs.
Faulkner said the project, like the demons themselves, is still in its infancy. It is unclear how the animals would cope outside the 4,000-hectare walled wildlife sanctuary where they were born. But he added that the first step was for “demons to multiply and survive, and they did.”
Baby devils, contained in their mothers’ bags, are a promising sign, as conservationists face a sharp decline in the number of animals in the only place they are found in the wild: Tasmania, southern mainland Australia.
Demons are being destroyed by contagious face cancer that has reduced the population by more than 90 percent. It’s really aggressive, “said Faulkner. “His future is really uncertain.”
For decades, scientists have been trying to save devils by developing vaccines, studying the genetic differences that make some animals resistant to cancer, and trying to reproduce a group of uninfected organisms on the continent.
If demons take root again in mainland Australia, the benefits may exceed saving the endangered animals. Conservationists say there is evidence that the Tasmanian Devil, a carnivore marsupial with a strong bite, is effective in controlling wild cats and possibly even foxes, which have wiped out native plants and animals in Australia.
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