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Tasmanian devils are back after almost going extinct

Tasmanian devils have been returned to the Australian mainland 3,000 years after the animals died off there.

The mainland population is believed to have been partly killed off by a group of dingoes – wild dogs native to the continent. Experts say other causes of extinction could include a rise in the native human population and extremely dry weather.

Where do Tasmanian devils live?

A staff member at Aussie Ark feeds a bottle to one of 400 Tasmanian devil joeys raised at the facility. (Image credit: Aussie Ark/Reuters)

Wild Tasmanian devils can only be found in Tasmania (Australia).

Tasmanian devils live across Tasmanian in most landscapes including our wilderness area, National Parks, forest, farmland and coastlines.. sometimes even in our suburbs!

Hundreds of years ago, Tasmanian devils not only lived in Tasmania, but also on the Australian mainland. We know this from fossils that have been found. They became extinct on the mainland about 3,000​ years ago.

What are Tasmanian devils?

Tasmanian devils have such strong jaws and teeth, they can eat their food whole, including bones and fur. (Image credit: Aussie Ark/Reuters)

The Tasmanian devil is NOT just a Looney Tunes cartoon character! It is a most unusual mammal, found only on the island state of Tasmania, a part of Australia. It is also a marsupial, related to koalas and kangaroos. Why the “fiery” name and reputation for an animal the size of a small dog? Devils are black in color and are said to have fierce tempers! Their oversize head, neck, and jaws are well suited to crushing bones. They make eerie growls while searching for food at night. And when a group of devils feeds together at a carcass, harsh screeching and spine-chilling screams can be heard. Tasmanian devils have behaviors that may seem odd or scary to us, but they have a different meaning in devil society: 

A mouth that opens quite wide—While the famous gape, or yawn, of the Tasmanian devil looks threatening, it is more likely to express fear and uncertainty than aggression.

A foul odor—This is produced under stress, not when the devil is calm and relaxed.

Fierce snarls and high-pitched screams—These are used to establish dominance at feeding time around a carcass.

A strong sneeze—No, they aren’t catching a cold! Instead, the sneeze may come before a fight between devils. These are mostly spectacular bluff behaviors, all part of a ritual to lessen any real fighting that may lead to serious injuries. After a nose-to-nose confrontation—during which their ears flush red!—one or both animals usually back down.

Why are they called devils?

In this Monday, April 18, 2016 photo, a Tasmanian devil eats wallaby in a zoo at Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania state, Australia. (AP Photo/Rod McGuirk)

The animals have a reputation for flying into a rage when faced with a predator.

According to the Australian Museum, that reputation isn’t totally fair. They appear more aggressive than they actually are.

Are devils dangerous to people?

No, devils are not dangerous. They do not attack people, although they will defend themselves if they’re attacked or trapped.

Devils may look fierce but they will much rather escape than fight. However, devils have powerful jaws and when they do bite, they can cause serious injury.

Are devils useful?

They certainly are. Devils play an important role, by eating sick and dead animals. They probably also help to control feral cats in Tasmania and, by doing so, they help to protect some of our native species, particularly birds. They can even help us control animals that do not belong in Tasmania – such as the red fox, an animal that is a big problem on the Australian mainland. While there are many devils around, it is very difficult for foxes to breed in Tasmania. Fox dens are very smelly and quite messy, so devils can quickly sniff them out.

Devils are also useful in other ways. Think about things that are unique to Tasmania and the Tasmanian devil will probably be at the top of your list. Tourists love to see our devils and they will travel long distances to do so. Devils are so popular that products and sports teams are named after them.

Why are they endangered?

There are a few reasons why devils disappeared from the Australian mainland and were declared endangered in 2008.

A facial tumour disease played a big part, according to the United Nations Red List, which tracks how well various species are doing.

Aussie Ark volunteers and staff used these tubes to release the devils into the wild on Sept. 10. (Image credit: Aussie Ark/Reuters)

Devils have also been killed by vehicles, dogs and drivers over the years, according to the Red List.

For a long time, wild dogs called dingoes were blamed for wiping out the devils, but a 2014 study suggested that wasn’t the case.

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