Jeff Corwin on historic Tasmanian devil return: It's 'a glimmer of hope'
The TV host and animal expert said devils are crucial to supporting Australian ecosystems
Tasmanian devils have been born in the wilds of the Australian mainland for the first time in more than 3,000 years.
New South Wales' Aussie Ark wildlife sanctuary announced the seven historic births on social media last week.
There are just around 25,000 devils left in the Tasmanian wild today and the species is listed as endangered on the United Nations’ Red List.
Wildlife biologist and conservationist Jeff Corwin has been to Tasmania 20 to 30 times over the years in his career and worked extensively with Tasmanian devils.
TASMANIAN DEVIL JOEYS BORN ON AUSTRALIAN MAINLAND FOR FIRST TIME IN 3,000 YEARS
Speaking with Fox News on Friday, he called the news "a glimmer of hope" in a world dealing with "a lot of environmental darkness and despair."
Corwin said that the world's largest surviving marsupial carnivore is the "poster child for imperiled wildlife and extinction."
"They are incredibly adaptive creatures. They are very resilient animals, incredible predators and really remarkable scavengers. But, they really were not equipped to take on a number of challenges and really were ill-equipped for things like invasive species – especially dogs. And, they were not ready for roads and development and disease," he said. "So, the three threats they face significantly: one is an internal threat, which is … a sarcoma that they actually spread virally from one Tasmanian devil to the next."
Due to these pressures, the devils were pushed to the point of regional extinction.
Tasmania was the devils' last remaining refuge and a disease called Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) has ravaged the wild population.
Once called Sarcophilus satanicus, or "Satanic flesh-lover," devils – known now as Sarcophilus harrisii – typically live for up to six years in the wild and males can weigh up to 30 pounds.
Corwin likened the devils' plight to that of the endangered California condor, which is being slowly reintroduced into Pacific Northwest skies for the first time in nearly 100 years.
"It's not all that different to the American California condors. You know, the California condor just a few decades ago was reduced to being nearly extinct in the wild. Now [there are] around 500-plus wild condors, but it's a highly managed population. It requires a lot of micromanagement to ensure that they survive in the wild," he said.
"And, this will likely be the same in Australia … because Australia is the poster child as the Tasmanian devil is the poster child for incredible natural wonder and shocking environmental catastrophe," the animal expert said, noting that poor environmental management had pushed hundreds of Australian species to the brink of extinction.
Nearly three billion animals were estimated to have been killed or displaced in the devastating wildfires of late 2019 and early 2020.
A July 2020 study released by scientists from several Australian universities said 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds, 143 million mammals and 51 million frogs were harmed in the blazes.
Corwin said the fires likely pushed 12 species to extinction and consumed hundreds of millions of acres of habitat, reducing one of Australia's most important national parks by 90%.
Corwin said conservationists also need to take predators and invasive environmental competitors, and other factors like disease into account.
Preserving devils is extremely beneficial, he said, not only for the creatures but for other Australian ecosystems.
"When you protect a keystone species, you then inevitably ensure the survival of all those other life forms that are stitched and integrated into the ecosystem that that creature depends upon. So, by protecting the Tasmanian devil, that means we have to protect habitat. By protecting habitat, we protect other species," Corwin explained.
If that is the case, there will be stronger natural resources available, the effects of a changing climate would be "softer" and there would be marked recreational and economic benefits like tourism.
The TV host pointed out that the Tasmanian devil gets a bad reputation as a "grumpy" creature that "dervishes and whirls around" its ecosystem.
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In reality, he says, devils are very "sweet-natured" – the "ultimate example of the light that shines twice as bright half as long."
"When you take something that is nearly gone and you bring it to that point of recovery, it's evidence that there's an opportunity to do that and to do that with other species versus kind of brushing the hands and saying, ‘Well, let’s wipe away that lost cause,'" Corwin said. "What we see is inspiration and motivation to apply that method of recovery to other species."
People, he said, have a responsibility to ensure that devils shine for generations to come.