"Early in 2011 news from Australia told of the rapid decline in the number of Tasmanian Devils. These feisty, fierce looking creatures have become something of a national treasure in recent years and all the stops are being pulled out to protect this species.
The Tasmanian Devil is an iconic little creature. For many of us around the world we are more familiar with the cartoon character version of a Tasmanian Devil. However the small marsupial, native to Tasmania, is a great species. Sadly it is in danger of being wiped out by disease.
In the last ten years the Tasmanian Devil has become a much rarer sight in the wild. Up to 80% have been lost to disease during this period. Currently officials in that part of the world are investing millions of pounds to try to combat the killer disease which seems to attack these small animals.
Tasmanian Devils have been developing a particular form of cancer. The disease is now called Devil Facial Tumour Disease, which I suppose explains the illness well. Photographs of diseased Devils show just how nasty the tumours can be. Unusually for tumours it is a contagious disease. As Devils are prone to nip at each others faces in the wild the disease has been spreading easily and quickly.
This disease is a "living thing" which has been known to change, in order to survive when attempts to destroy it have had some success. In an attempt to try to ensure that at least some Tasmanian Devils survive, some of these animals are being taken captive.
These will act as an insurance policy against the total eradication of Tasmanian Devils. No right minded person enjoys living creatures being put into captivity but, at the moment this is all that can be done.
The disease has been around since at least 1996 and to date a cure has not been found. The irony of Australia's huge rescue effort for the Tasmanian Devil is that at one time these creatures were hunted and thought to be a pest. Nowadays the Tasmanian Devil is held in high regards and has been placed on the endangered species list".
In February 2012 the BBC reported that the Tasmanian Devils killer genome had been identified. Whilst there is still a long way to go in controlling Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), the discovery is a vital first step. In the last 16 years, since this cancer was first recorded it is estimated that the number of Devils has declined by 90%.
The facial cancers kill the Devils by starvation. An increasing inability to eat and to compete for food means that death usually follows within four months of the lesions becoming evident.
Details of the research here