Tasmanian Devils Return to Australia After 3,000 Years

Actor Chris Hemsworth helped reintroduce the critters.

Actors Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky help release Tasmanian devils into the wild on mainland Australia.
Actors Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky help release Tasmanian devils into the wild on mainland Australia.


For the first time in more than 3,000 years, Tasmanian devils are back in mainland Australia. Conservationists released 11 of the animals into a nearly 1,000-acre wildlife sanctuary, calling it a "historic moment that is critical to rewild Australia."

“Avengers” actor Chris Hemsworth and his wife, actor Elsa Pataky, helped release several of the animals into their new home.

Environmental group Aussie Ark, in partnership with Global Wildlife Conservation and WildArk, has been working with Tasmanian devils for more than a decade, with the goal of eventually releasing the animals back into the wild.

"Releasing Tasmanian devils into the wilds of mainland Australia is an important moment not only for the country, but for our planet,” Don Church, the president of Global Wildlife Conservation, tells Treehugger.

“As apex predators, devils play a critical role in their ecosystem and will help to control the feral cats and foxes that threaten other endangered and endemic species. If we are going to rewild our planet to the benefit of all life on Earth, these are the kinds of creative, critical measures we must take. And Aussie Ark is boldly leading the way, restoring hope to the country with the worst mammal extinction rate in the world."

Tasmanian devils were once abundant throughout Australia. But then dingoes arrived about 3,500 years ago and likely played a role in the disappearance of Tasmanian devils from the mainland. Dingoes hunt in packs and the devils just couldn’t compete with them for food. 

Dingoes never made it to Tasmania. There, however, the devils were threatened by a highly transmissible, fatal disease called devil facial tumor disease (DFTD), a contagious cancer which decimated up to 90% of the wild population, according to WildArk. Only 25,000 devils remain in the wild in Tasmania today.

Tasmanian devils are classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List with their population numbers decreasing.

Restoring Australia's Ecosystem

This new release of 11 animals follows an earlier trial release of 15 devils. The animals were chosen from Aussie Ark’s program based on which ones would be best suitable for breeding with each other, without any risk of inbreeding. 

The devils will live in a sanctuary in Barrington Tops in southeastern Australia where they will be protected from feral pests, noxious weeds and fires, and the spread of disease. The sanctuary will also ban cars so that the animals will know not to associate cars with food. That could be a deadly relationship when the animals are released in a less protected environment.

In addition to the devils, Aussie Ark plans to reintroduce six more cornerstone species. Eastern quoll, brush-tail rock wallabies, Rufous bettong, long-nosed potoroo, parma wallabies, and southern brown bandicoots will also be released to the same sanctuary in hopes of restoring the country’s ecosystem.

A Bright Moment for Conservationists

Tasmanian devil
The devils were released into a sanctuary in southeastern Australia. Aussie Ark 

Aussie Ark plans to release 40 more Tasmanian devils over the next two years. All of the released animals will be monitored through regular surveys, camera traps, and radio collars with transmitters. This will let researchers know how the devils are faring, where they are staking out territory, what challenges they might be facing, if they are breeding, and what they are eating. This information will help refine the process for future releases.

The devils’ release is a bright moment for conservationists in Australia where the country is still recovering from wildfires that burned more than 72,000 square miles of forest and killed at least 34 people and nearly 3 billion animals, according to WildArk.

“The fires earlier this year were absolutely devastating and threatened to rob us of our hope,” said Tim Faulkner, president of Aussie Ark. “This is our response to that threat of despair: Come what may, ultimately we will not be deterred in our efforts to put an end to extinction and to rewild Australia.”