Tasmanian Devils Wipe Out Penguin Colony

They were introduced to Maria Island as insurance against extinction
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 21, 2021 6:30 PM CDT
Devils Wipe Out Island's Penguins
In 2012, the outlook appeared bleak for Tasmanian devils.   (Getty Images/Redzaal)

A plan to protect Tasmanian devils from extinction came at a hellish price for penguins and other birds on an Australian island. Researchers say that after a small number of the carnivorous marsupials were shipped to Maria Island, east of Tasmania, in 2012, the island's population of 3,000 breeding pairs of little penguins disappeared, the BBC reports. The BirdLife Tasmania conservation group says the introduction of the devils also had a "catastrophic impact" on Maria Island's shearwater colonies, while the island's Cape Barren geese, normally ground-nesting birds, have been trying to nest in trees to avoid the predators.

Dr. Eric Woehler of BirdLife Tasmania says bird populations always suffer when mammals are introduced to the region's islands, the Guardian reports. "Losing 3,000 pairs of penguins from an island that is a national park that should be a refuge for this species basically is a major blow," he says. The 28 devils introduced in 2012 grew to a population of more than 100 by 2016. At the time, authorities feared that a contagious facial cancer would cause their extinction in the wild—but they now believe the cancer itself might go extinct. Devil numbers have rebounded in Tasmania, and the species has now been reintroduced to mainland Australia. Woehler argues that the removal of the "insurance population" on Maria Island would not "have any adverse consequences for the devil." (More Tasmanian devil stories.)

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