Tasmanian devils return to mainland Australia for first time in 3,000 years

Scientists hope the scrappy predators' reintroduction can balance ecosystems ravaged by invasive species.

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Tasmanian devils, known for their ferocious temperaments, have been plagued by a contagious facial cancer in recent decades.

It’s been 3,000 years since the Tasmanian devil’s raspy shriekrang through the forests of mainland Australia. But now, thanks to a dogged reintroduction effort, 26 of these endangered tiny terrors have returned.

No bigger than a lapdog, these marsupials are famous for their ferocity and powerful jaws, which can reduce large carcasses to smithereens in minutes. But in the 1990s, the species was hit with a contagious and deadly mouth cancer, causing its only remaining wild population, on the Australian island state of Tasmania, to drop to just 25,000 animals.

It’s unknown why the species disappeared from Australia millennia ago, but it’s likely due to human actions—when early hunters killed off most of the continent’s megafauna, the devils had nothing left to eat.

As scavengers, devils play a crucial role in maintaining a balanced, healthy ecosystem—which is why scientists have been trying so hard to bring them back.

“We've worked for over a decade to get to this point,” says Tim Faulkner, president of AussieArk, a species recovery organization. The group collaborates closely with the nonprofits Global Wildlife Conservation and...

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