FORTY little devils have come into the world this year in the Barrington Tops.
Conservation facility Devil Ark is breeding Tasmanian devils to repopulate Tasmania, where devil facial tumour disease has decimated the wild population.
“This success far exceeds our expectations,” Devil Ark operations manager Tim Faulkner said of this year’s litter.
Twenty-six joeys were born during the facility’s first breeding season last year.
Devil Ark now has about 130 devils, with a short-term goal of reaching 360 by 2016.
The facility aims to breed up a healthy, genetically-diverse “insurance” population to be introduced to the wild once the disease has run its course, preventing the extinction of the animal.
It houses the devils in free-range enclosures and keepers intervene as little as possible so the animals can retain their wild traits.
Devil facial tumour disease is a contagious cancer that has spread rapidly through Tasmania’s devil population.
The disease was first seen in 1996 and 10 years later, the wild population of Tasmanian devils had dropped from 250,000 to 150,000.
By 2011, the population had plummeted to 50,000.
The disease is characterised by tumours around the mouth and head, and is fatal within three to 12 months because of starvation, dehydration or the breakdown of body functions as the disease spreads to major organs.
Professor Kathy Belov, from the University of Sydney, said hopes of resistant animals in the wild were fading, with the disease seemingly becoming even more aggressive.
“Captive breeding of Tasmanian devils is critical,” Professor Belov said.