A group of healthy Tasmanian Devils has been reintroduced to their natural habitat as part of a plan to save the species from extinction. Photos show the group arriving on the Australian island state after being flown from Devil Ark, a disease-free preservation project in New South Wales.

Conservationists at Devil Ark sent 22 Tasmanian Devils back to the Forestier Peninsula in Tasmania. The project began in 2011 with 44 devils. They now have 162 and have produced 187 joeys.

While experts say there is still a long way to go, it is hoped the healthy breeding programme will help save them from Devil Facial Tumour Disease, a cancer that resulted in the population plummeting to around 10,000 today from 250,000 in 1996.

Mike Drinkwater, operations manager at the Devil Ark, told Reuters: "It's a contagious cancer, one of only a very few small handful known in the world. So, what happens is, it's transferred, simply by touch. Devils natural feeding behaviour and mating behaviour, wherever they come into contact with one another this disease can be transmitted and thus the rapid decline."

The disease causes big lumps to form on their mouths and necks, making it difficult for them to eat. "It's a very, very nasty disease. After three months we see symptoms, after six months those devils are gone," Drinkwater said.

Before being packed onto a plane, they were sprayed and checked for lice and any insects. On arriving in Tasmania, they were released into an area that is protected by a "devil-proof" fence and other measures taken to prevent cancer-stricken devils from coming into contact with healthy ones.

"With the work Devil Ark is carrying out in combination with other organisations, we can mitigate against what unfortunately could be another Australian mammal extinction and that's what we don't want to see, especially for such a unique iconic animal like the Tasmanian Devil," Drinkwater said.