Actors Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky helped conservationists release 11 Tasmanian devils into a wildlife sanctuary in an effort to "rewild" Australia.

By Kelli Bender
October 05, 2020 02:12 PM
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Thor is taking a break from saving humans with the Avengers to turn his attention to a slightly smaller animal.

Chris Hemsworth and his wife, fellow actor Elsa Pataky, recently helped conservationists release 11 Tasmanian devils into a nearly 1000-acre wildlife sanctuary in mainland Australia. The last time a Tasmanian devil set its paw on the soil of Australia's mainland was over 3,000 years ago, according to a release from Global Wildlife Conservation.

The Australian actor and conservationists released these animals in an effort to "rewild" Australia — the country with the world’s worst mammal extinction rate. Aussie Ark, in partnership with Global Wildlife Conservation and WildArk, started this project over 10 years ago and is proud to finally have a former animal resident back on Australian soil.

"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 Aussie Ark, said in a statement. "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. Because of this reintroduction and all of the hard work leading up to it, someday we will see Tasmanian devils living throughout the great eastern forests as they did 3,000 years ago."

Credit: Courtesy WildArk

Tasmanian devil population numbers need a boost due to a string of hardships that started over 3,000 years ago with the introduction of the dingo,  a pack animal that pushed the Tasmanian devil out of mainland Australia. In Tasmania, the island state that most Tasmanian devils currently call home, the animals are threatened by "a transmissible, painful and fatal disease called Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) — the only known contagious cancer— which decimated up to 90 percent of the wild population of Tasmanian devils. Just 25,000 devils are left in the wild of Tasmania today," according to the release.

Credit: Courtesy WildArk

There are now 26 Tasmanian devils, the 11 from the Hemsworth's release and 15 from a trial release, in mainland Australia working to increase those numbers. All of the animals were carefully selected from Aussie Ark's breeding program. The Tasmanian devils most suitable for breeding, without any risk interbreeding, were chosen. In their new Barrington Tops wildlife sanctuary home, away from cars, feral pests, poisonous planets, and human interference, the Tasmanian devils are in an ideal surrounding for making more Tasmanian devils.

Credit: Courtesy WildArk

"Without Aussie Ark’s incredible work and perseverance over all of these years, the recent devil reintroduction would not have been possible and instead of looking forward to the recovery of the species, we would be watching the devil slip into extinction,"  Don Church, president of Global Wildlife Conservation, said in a statement. "This is an incredible example of how to rewild our planet, bringing back the natural systems to the benefit of all life on Earth."

As well as benefitting the Tasmanian devil — marked as endangered by the IUCN Red List — this recent reintroduction is designed to help all of Australia. Global Wildlife Conservation notes in their release that the carnivorous creatures can "help control feral cats and foxes that threaten other endangered and endemic species, and because they are scavengers, they help keep their home clean and free of disease."

Credit: Aussie Ark

Aussie Ark is hopeful that the reintroduction of the Tasmanian Devil, and eventually six other cornerstone species (eastern quoll, brush-tail rock wallabies, rufous bettong, long-nosed potoroo, parma wallabies, and southern brown bandicoots), to the same wildlife sanctuary in mainland Australia will help strengthen the country's ecosystem.

Forty more Tasmanian devils will be released into the sanctuary over the next two years. All of the animals, including those from the initial releases, will be monitored through regular surveys, radio collars fit with transmitters, and camera traps. By keeping tabs on the animals, Aussie Ark will know how the critters are faring, if they are breeding, and what adjustments might need to be made for future releases.

Credit: Aussie Ark

This good news, in the form of the 11 Tasmanian devils Hemsworth and Pataky helped to release, is welcomed to conservationists in Australia, who are still reeling from the bushfires that devastated eastern Australia early this year. The fires burned through more than 72,000 square miles of forest and killed at least 34 people and nearly 3 billion animals, according to Global Conservation.

"The fires earlier this year were absolutely devastating and threatened to rob us of our hope," Faulkner said. "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 rewild Australia."