For the first time in 3,000 years, Tasmanian devils have been introduced into the wild in Australia.
Conservation groups released 26 of the endangered mammals into a large sanctuary north of Sydney in an effort to rebuild their population.
“In 100 years, we are going to be looking back at this day as the day that set in motion the ecological restoration of an entire country,” said Tim Faulkner, president of Aussie Ark, in a statement obtained by Fox News. “Not only is this the reintroduction of one of Australia’s beloved animals, but of an animal that will engineer the entire environment around it, restoring and rebalancing our forest ecology after centuries of devastation from introduced foxes and cats and other invasive predators. Because of this reintroduction and all of the hard work leading up to it, someday we will see Tasmanian devils living throughout the great eastern forests as they did 3,000 years ago.”
A Tasmanian devil shortly after release into a wild sanctuary on Barrington Tops. (Aussie Ark)
The release, which took place in March and September, is the first of three planned releases. Over the next two years, an additional 20 Tasmanian devils will be released into the wild, where there are believed to be less than 25,000 left.
During the 1990s, there were as many as 150,000 of the high-pitched-screaming mammals in the wild, but deadly cancer drastically cut population numbers.
The mammals will be monitored with camera traps, fitted with radio collars and regular surveys to understand how they are adapting to the environment.
It’s unclear why the Tasmanian devils were no longer present in Australia, but researchers have speculated that dingoes may have played a role, the BBC reports.
Tasmanian Devil beauty shot. (Aussie Ark)
The creatures, which are classified as endangered, are being reintroduced as part of the response to the “absolutely devastating” wildfires that took place in Australia earlier this year, Faulkner added. “This is our response to that threat of despair: come what may, ultimately we will not be deterred in our efforts to put an end to extinction and to rewild Australia.”
It’s believed the fires “killed or displaced” nearly 3 billion animals, including 43 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds and 51 million frogs. Earlier this year, it was declared among the “worst wildlife disasters” in history.
Fox News’ Travis Fedschun contributed to this story.