Devils – which grow to the size of a small dog – are the world’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial. The powerfully jawed creatures mainly scavenge on carrion – removing health hazards by tucking into tasty carcasses – but they will also pursue live prey including small kangaroos.
Conservationists say a release in Victoria could help save the devil from possible extinction and could also keep fox and feral cat numbers down.
“This could be like a homecoming for the devil,” said Chris Johnson, professor of wildlife conservation at the University of Tasmania, quoted in the Herald Sun. “They would fit back into most of south-eastern Australia, no trouble.”
Tassie Devils once roamed Australia but are thought to have become extinct on the mainland about 400 years ago – with the spread of the dingo a possible factor.
They were also trapped and poisoned in Tasmania for more than a century because they raided poultry yards. But the increasingly rare devils were protected by law in 1941, becoming a Tasmanian icon and a big attraction for tourists.
But the survival of the devil has been threatened again since 1996 by devil facial tumour disease – a rare transmissible cancer which may have reduced the population by up to 50 per cent.
“It would be great to establish a population in the wild that would be separate from the disease,” said Professor Johnson.
Zoos Victoria and Parks Victoria are working on the project, which could see devils first released at Wilsons Promontory National Park.