Save the Tasmanian Devil Program (STDP), a project initiated by the Tasmanian and Australian governments to preserve endangered Tasmanian devils on Maria Island, has backfired after the predators killed seabirds in large numbers. This is according to BirdLife Tasmania, a local conservation group.

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According to a government survey, there were about 3,000 breeding pairs of penguins on the island in 2012. Today, none of the penguins can be traced, and BirdLife Tasmania said that their disappearance is associated with the introduction of Tasmanian devils. Last year, a study published in the journal Biological Conservation indicated that the Tasmanian devils had eliminated a colony of shearwaters, a species of seabirds.

Related: Tasmanian devils reunited with their motherland after 3,000 years

Tasmanian devils were introduced to Maria Island in 2012 to protect them. A deadly facial cancer had driven the animals to the brink of extinction, prompting action to save them. Unfortunately, the conservation processes put in place failed to consider the possible impacts of the program.

The Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment produced a report in 2011 warning that the introduction of Tasmanian devils would have a negative impact on the little penguins and shearwater colonies of Maria Island, but the report was brushed aside. BirdLife Tasmania worries that the introduction of the Tasmanian devils has been catastrophic to one or more bird species.

“Losing 3,000 pairs of penguins from an island that is a national park that should be a refuge for this species basically is a major blow,” said Eric Woehler, researcher for BirdLife Tasmania, as reported by BBC.

According to the International Union For Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, Tasmanian devils are endangered species with numbers that have been recovering since 2012. Woehler said that their population size has been on a positive trajectory both in Tasmania and mainland Australia.

Last month, Tasmanian devils were born on mainland Australia for the first time in thousands of years, thanks to the conservation efforts by the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program. While the group is celebrating the success, there are ongoing setbacks, including the loss of local seabirds.

A Tasmanian government spokesperson said the program will continue to evolve based on new scientific knowledge. “Maria Island remains an important part of the broader devil programme to help restore and maintain an enduring and resilient wild devil population in Tasmania.”


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