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 scurrying 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 led attempts to recreate groups of demons long after they were wiped out on the continent, 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 deal outside of 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, in their mothers’ bags, are a promising sign, as conservationists face a steep decline in animal numbers in the only place they are in the wild: Tasmania Island, South Australia.
Demons are being destroyed by contagious face cancer that has reduced the population by more than 90 percent. It’s really aggressive, “Faulkner said. “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 carnivorous 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.