Even big stars like Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky can’t deny the wicked charm of the Tasmanian devil.
The husband and wife joined the conservation group Aussie Ark on Monday in a New South Wales wildlife sanctuary to help reintroduce the endangered Tasmanian devil back into Australia for the first time in 3,000 years.
Hemsworth, 37, and Pataky, 44, helped re-release the carnivorous marsupials back into their native land — a 400-hectare (988-acre) swath of wilderness north of Sydney, in Barrington Tops National Park.
“We laid some traps to catch the devils. And then we’re going to release them out into the wild,” the “Thor” actor explained to a 7News Sydney correspondent.
“In 100 years, we are going to be looking back at this day as the day that set in motion the ecological restoration of an entire country,” Tim Faulkner, president of the environmental nonprofit, said in a statement.
The Australian mainland was once home to the Tasmanian devil, before predators such as the dingo and humans all but eliminated the feisty creature. Relegated to the Tasmanian island for thousands of years, the species suffered another setback: a transmissible cancer called devil facial tumor disease (DFTD). By 1996, their numbers were a mere 10% of their former distribution.
Today there are some 25,000 wild devils in Tasmania, and for the past decade, Aussie Ark has worked to preserve the at-risk animal. In captivity, they’ve been able to multiply their observation group from 44 devils in 2011 to more than 200 now. Recently, their team has freed a total of 26 individuals into Australia.
“Not only is this the reintroduction of one of Australia’s beloved animals, but of an animal that will engineer the entire environment around it, restoring and rebalancing our forest ecology after centuries of devastation from introduced foxes and cats and other invasive predators,” Faulkner said.
Don Church, president of the Global Wildlife Conservation charity, called the effort “an incredible example of how to re-wild our planet, bringing back the natural systems to the benefit of all life on Earth.”
Aussie Ark hopes to reintroduce around 40 more devils in the near future, and will track their rehoming process using radio collars, trap surveillance and regular surveys of the region.
In their native habitat, the apex predator is sure to help curb Australia’s populations of feral cats and hungry foxes, which are known to hunt other endangered species, including the bandicoot. Meanwhile, more bandicoots means better management of their nests, made from dry leaves and grass, which cause wildfires to spread even faster. As natural-born scavengers, they also help keep disease outbreaks stemming from dead animals at bay.
Following Australia’s devastating fire season last year, which decimated around 3 billion animals, Faulkner was hopeful for the future of wildlife Down Under.
“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 re-wild Australia,” he said.
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