Tasmanian devil to be reintroduced into Australia to prey on feral cats

Tasmanian devils are being introduced into Australia to prey on feral cats and foxes. The feral cat is persona non grata in Australia. They are enemy number one and the authorities on that vast continent will do almost anything to get rid of them. The latest wheeze is to introduce the Tasmanian devil, the animal with the world’s strongest bite (per unit body mass of any extant predatory land mammal). They bite so hard they can strip large carcasses in minutes. Their bite beats that of the jaguar even and that superb big cat can bite into a turtles carapace.

Tasmanian devil
Tasmanian devil. Photo: Steve Parish
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The devil used to live on the Australian mainland but were made extinct in Australia because of predation by dingoes from Asia some 3,000 years ago. The dingo is still there, thriving as are foxes and feral cats. Dingoes don’t seem to reduce the population of feral cats and neither apparently does poison injected from a nasty device invented by a scientist or poison sausages thrown from helicopters.

So it is going to be down to the Tasmanian devil which is a carnivorous marsupial native to mainland Australia and which is now only found in Tasmania. They have suffered since the mid-1990s with a very nasty disease called devil facial tumour disease. It has ravaged Tasmania’s wild devils causing an estimated 20% to 80% decline in their population across 65% of Tasmania. It is transmissible cancer i.e. contagious, and therefore one Tasmanian devil can catch it from another and it causes tumours around the mouth. They starve to death. The species is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List.

Robotic device which poisons feral cats
Robotic device which poisons feral cats. John Read inspects it.

A small population of 30 devils has been established in north-eastern New South Wales. The experts and conservationists want them to reoccupy the mainland. Although they lack agility and intelligence (their brain is one third as big as that of foxes) they do have a very powerful bite and they prey on sick, injured and young animals.

Feral cat kills bilbies in Western Desert of Australia
Feral cat kills bilbies in Western Desert of Australia. Montage: PoC from images in the public domain.

Is it going to work? They are opportunistic hunters and eat carrion more often than live prey. They favour wombats because they’re easier to catch. They eat small mammals and plant-based foods such as vegetable matter and fruit. I seriously doubt whether they will be able to curb the feral cat population of Australia. The Australian feral cat is large and able. I’m sure they can out run a Tasmanian devil with ease. They can probably outmanoeuvre them and outsmart them bearing in mind the devil’s brain size. I see this as another failure for the Australian government.

The best thing the government can do is to operate nationwide, federal government-sponsored TNR programs employing an army of volunteers. The volunteers will help I hope because there should be enough Australians who are decent enough minded to reduce the feral cat population humanely rather than in a cruel manner as is currently the case.

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