The Tasmanian devil has had a difficult time in the last 30 years, with the growth of a contagious type of cancer known as devil facial tumor (DFT) disease pushing the population to the edge. As a result, multiple techniques have been attempted to try to save the species.
Recent research from BirdLife Tasmania appears to indicate that one strategy has wreaked havoc on an entirely other animal, according to Wionews.
Tasmanian devils were transported to Maria Island, a tiny habitat to the east of Tasmania, in an attempt to establish a reserve population physically separated from DFT. The little island was a sanctuary for little penguins (Eudyptula minor), the tiniest penguins on the planet, which are ground-dwelling and breeding birds.
Unfortunately, their small size and weak defenses made them easy prey for the island's newcomers. As a result, the Tasmanian devils are estimated to have wiped out the breeding population of about 6,000 little penguins.
Transferring to Maria Island
Maria Island was used to protect Tasmanian devil populations by establishing a geographically separated population free of the infectious and lethal devil facial tumor illness.
By 2016, the initial population of 28 devils placed on the island in 2012 and 2013 had swelled to over 100 animals.
Start of the Decline
The alarming trend has been noted since the introduction of the devils in 2012, but according to a new study done by BirdLife Tasmania, the penguins have now entirely vanished.
"Every time people have purposefully or unintentionally brought animals to maritime islands, the same consequence has always occurred... a devastating impact on one or more bird species," Dr. Eric Woehler, convenor of BirdLife Tasmania, told the Guardian.
"Losing 3,000 pairs of penguins from a national park that should be a sanctuary for this species is a significant blow," says the author.
Penguins in Australia
Little penguins may be found on the beaches of Australia and New Zealand. These two countries are all too aware of the catastrophic potential of imported species due to their ground-nesting bird populations.
Possums were intentionally introduced into New Zealand in 1837 in the hopes of establishing the fur trade. Still, instead of enriching the country's biodiversity, they preyed on native species such as the iconic kiwi and competed for burrows with little penguins.
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Devils vs Penguins
The harm posed by Tasmanian devils to tiny penguins is much greater than that posed by possums and domestic cats, who are also fond of disturbing these small birds. Not only the penguins are suffering as a result of the devils' human-assisted invasion, according to Woehler.
He stated, "We're seeing tales of geese attempting to nest in trees to evade devil predation." "It is obvious that the devils have had a disastrous ecological impact on Maria Island's avian fauna."
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