Rewilding the Tasmanian devil

The Tasmanian devil has been extinct on mainland Australia for around 3000 years, however ecologists have provided evidence to suggest a mainland reintroduction would benefit both the devil as well as mainland ecosystems.

By returning the devil to mainland Australia, we might help restore ecosystem function that evolved between devils and other native species on mainland Australia.

These missing interactions were vital for healthy functioning ecosystems operating over millennia. There is also potential that the devil may predate upon, compete with, or cause foxes and feral cats to spatially avoid regions with healthy devil populations. This interaction may reduce the impact of foxes and feral cats on Australia’s critical weight range species (between 35 grams and 5.5 kilograms).

Devils may therefore also help to reduce the reliance on baiting and shooting of our feral predators, reducing the requirement for ecosystem management intervention over time. Reintroducing the devil might also provide an insurance population Tasmanian devils, whose wild population in Tasmania has declined by over 80% in the past 20 years due to a disease epidemic. Wild devils on mainland Australia might allow this insurance population to retain their wild behaviours.

How Devils Change Forests

Did you know that devils evolved on mainland Australia and only disappeared in the last few millennia? Watch our story on how bringing the devil back might help restore our ecosystems.

Our role

Rewilding Australia is developing a reintroduction plan for the Tasmanian devil to mainland Australia. We are also working at ensuring the devil is recognised as a missing vital component in mainland Australian ecosystems.

Why Barrington Tops National Park?

Barrington Tops typifies a climate similar to the existing climate conditions wild Tasmanian devils inhabit in Tasmania. The Park has healthy populations of native prey species for devils, and reintroduced captive devils could be released in locations that are remote enough from a key threat – that of roads – which are a potential significant threat to reintroduced devil populations. 

How Devils Change Forests - References

(1) Ripple, William J. 2011 What is a Trophic Cascade? 

Trends in Ecology & Evolution , Volume 31 , Issue 11 , 842 - 849

(2) Fleming, , Bretz, M. R., Valentine, L. E., & Hardy, G. E. S.. (2013). Is the loss of Australian digging mammals contributing to a deterioration in ecosystem function ?, 44, 94–108.

(3) James AI, Eldridge DJ (2007) Reintroduction of fossorial native mammals and potential impacts on ecosystem processes in an Australian desert landscape. Biological Conservation 138: 351–359.

(4) Eldridge DJ, Myers C (2000) The impact of warrens of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus L.) on soil and ecological processes in a semi-arid Australian woodland. Journal of Arid Environments 47: 325–337.

(5) Valentine, L.E., Anderson, H., Hardy, G.E.St.J. and Fleming, P.A. (2012) Foraging activity by the southern brown bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus) as a mechanism for soil turnover. Australian Journal of Zoology, 60 (6). pp. 419-423.

(6) Newell, J. (2008). The Role of the Reintroduction of Greater Bilbies ( Macrotis lagotis ) and Burrowing Bettongs ( Bettongia lesueur ) in the Ecological Restoration of an Arid Ecosystem : Foraging Diggings , Diet , and Soil Seed Banks Table of Contents. School of Earth and Environmental Sciences University of Adelaide, (May).

(7) Eldridge DJ, Whitford WG, Duval BD (2009) Animal disturbances promote shrub maintenance in a desertified grassland. Journal of Ecology 97: 1302–1310.

(8)=Reddell P, Spain AV, Hopkins M (1997) Dispersal of spores of mycorrhizal fungi in scats of native mammals in tropical forests of northeastern Australia. Biotropica 29: 184–192.

(9) James AI, Eldridge DJ, Hill BM (2009) Foraging animals create fertile patches in an Australian desert shrubland. Ecography (Copenhagen) 32: 723–732.

(10) Rarity of a top predator triggers continent-wide collapse of mammal prey: dingoes and marsupials in Australia. Christopher N Johnson, Joanne L Isaac, Diana O Fisher

Proc. R. Soc. B 2007 274 341-346; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2006.3711. Published 7 February 2007

(11) Brown, O. J. F. (2006). Tasmanian devil ( Sarcophilus harrisii ) extinction on the Australian mainland in the mid-Holocene : multicausality and ENSO intensification, 1–46.

(12) Glen, Al & Dickman, Christopher & E. SOULÉ, M & Mackey, Brendan. (2007). Evaluating the role of the Dingo as a trophic regulator in Australian ecosystems. Austral Ecology. 32. 492 - 501. 10.1111/j.1442-9993.2007.01721.x.

(13) Letnic, M., Ritchie, E. G. and Dickman, C. R. (2012), Top predators as biodiversity regulators: the dingo Canis lupus dingo as a case study. Biological Reviews, 87: 390–413. doi:10.1111/j.1469-185X.2011.00203.x

(14) Dexter Nick, Matt Hudson, Stuart James, Christopher MacGregor, David B. Lindenmayer. Unintended Consequences of Invasive Predator Control in an Australian Forest: Overabundant Wallabies and Vegetation Change. (2013) Published: August 21, 2013,

(15) William J. Ripple, Robert L. Beschta; Wolves and the Ecology of Fear: Can Predation Risk Structure Ecosystems?, BioScience, Volume 54, Issue 8, 1 August 2004, Pages 755–766,[0755:WATEOF]2.0.CO;2