Tasmanian Devil Faces Extinction Due to Cancer

There is one animal on the island state of Tasmania with the traits of a monster. It is aptly named the ‘Tasmanian Devil’ (or Tassie). Devils are typically heard before they are seen, emitting obnoxious screeches while feeding which can be heard several kilometers away. The spine chilling cries are hard to describe but can be heard here. As if their disturbing wails aren’t enough, devils emit an incredibly offensive odor when stressed and are believed to be extraordinarily aggressive animals. (Even though this is mostly bluff as they tend to avoid confrontation with humans if possible.)

Sarcophilus harrisii

Devils are the largest marsupial in Australia and have an array of fascinating biological traits and behaviors: Unlike most other animals, fat is stored in the tail and a healthy devil will have a nice thick tail to go along with the squat black body. Their heads are disproportionally large for their bodies. This makes sense, since attached, are their huge jaws which have more crushing power than any other mammal on earth. In fact, devils can reduce a carcass to nothing, devouring everything from the skin and organs and chewing the bones, as well.

Unfortunately, half of the wild population of Tasmanian Devils has succumbed to a strange cancer that has run rampant within the species. Ecologists speculate that wild animals will be extinct in 20 years if the disease continues to spread like it has been. The species has made some adaptions, such as breeding at an earlier age before the inevitable cancer kills them. This is one of the reasons the population hasn’t declined even faster.

The cancer is even more aggressive than the Tasmanian Devil: Once tumors begin to appear on the face, the affected animal only has about three months left before either dying of starvation or its body completely shutting down. The cancer is spread by bites and is seen most often around the face. Being such an aggressive animal, devils are prone to being bitten at one point or another. The only current solution is to breed healthy animals in captivity to avoid exposure to the “Devil Facial Tumor Disease”. It is unknown how the infection started, but it is comparable to a sci-fi movie in its gruesome severity and rapid spread. “Save the Tasmanian Devil” is an extremely informative site dedicated to providing information about the disease.

Research is currently underway to find a cure and a way to test animals that may have been exposed to the disease, since tumors are not immediately visible after exposure. Tasmanian Devils have a terrible reputation, but there isn’t anyone who would not miss the creatures and the wonderfully unique behaviors that make them so fascinating.

For more information about the disease and potential solutions click here.

Categorized | Animals, Other
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