Tasmanian devils were given a safe, island home. Then the devils slaughtered 3K penguins.

An effort to save the Tasmanian devil population has resulted in another species being wiped out. 

About a decade ago, 3,000 little penguins called Maria Island, an island east of Tasmania, their home. But when Tasmania devils were introduced in 2012, the penguin population slowly started to decrease.

Tasmanian devils are known to prey on birds and fish.

A recent study conducted by BirdLife Tasmania showed the penguin population has disappeared from the island. Tasmanian devils were brought to the island to be isolated from the contagious devil facial tumor disease. The disease was first discovered in 1996 and is known as the most common reason for the decline in Tasmanian devils numbers. 

Maria island has no public vehicles and roads. So, it was initially deemed to be an ideal location for the devils. In 2012, only 28 devils were released on the island which grew to 100 by 2016. Although the loss of penguins is sad, it doesn’t come as a surprise to some. 

“Every time humans have deliberately or accidentally introduced mammals to oceanic islands, there’s always been the same outcome … a catastrophic impact on one or more bird species,” Eric Woehler, representative of BirdLife Tasmania told The Guardian.

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Past research indicated the devils could have a negative impact on neighboring species. The animals were also responsible for wiping out short-tailed shearwaters on Maria Island. 

“Because of their larger size and ability to dig, devils had greater impacts on nesting shearwaters than either cats or possums [which also prey on the birds],” according to the study.

Woehler said Cape Barren geese have gone as far as changing their breeding grounds to avoid the devils, researchers found. 

“It’s very clear that the devils have had a catastrophic ecological impact on the bird fauna on Maria Island,” Woehler said. 

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A Tasmanian government spokesperson told The Guardian its Save the Tasmanian Devil program continually evaluated the devil population and program activities.

Follow Gabriela Miranda on Twitter: @itsgabbymiranda

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