In the process of trying to save one animal, another was decimated.
The 45-square-mile Maria Island was once a safe space for the pocket-sized little penguin species. The corner blip of land was free of the menaces the birds face elsewhere and proved a safe home for the creatures, which grow to be just two pounds. Just a decade ago, some 3,000 breeding pairs of little penguins thrived there, the Guardian reported.
Then, in response to an outbreak of a deadly facial tumor disease among Tasmanian devils, 28 of the marsupials were released on the island between 2012 and 2013. Since then, the face tumor disease’s spread has slowed and the devils’ ranks have grown to approximately 100.
But all of that comes at the expense of the little penguins, as there are no longer any on the island.
“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,” Dr. Eric Woehler of BirdLife Tasmania told the Guardian.
By attempting to save the devils, humans not only destroyed the island’s little penguin population but also caused fearful geese to live in trees.
“We’re getting reports of geese trying to nest in trees to avoid devil predation,” Woehler said. “It’s very clear that the devils have had a catastrophic ecological impact on the bird fauna on Maria Island.”
The island’s short-tailed shearwaters — a narrow-winged diving seabird that loves to eat fish, squid and crustaceans — are also no longer thriving as a result of the devils. Indeed, a study published in 2020 found that island’s shearwater colonies have recently been decimated.
The fate of Maria Island’s bird populations following the devil importation is sad but not surprising to experts.
“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,” said Woehler.
A spokesperson for the Tasmanian government’s Save the Tasmanian Devil program told the Guardian it continually monitors and evaluates all conservation activities.