The Tasmanian devil is a fierce wild animal that is on the verge of extinction. The species has been infected by a quick-moving cancer that is destroying the population. An awareness campaign was designed to help save the devil. The San Diego Zoo, which is temporarily housing four of them, has donated $500.000 to the cause in order to prevent the Tasmanian devils from going extinct.
Tasmanian devils are anything but nice. Though they are roughly the size of a dog, they are tough, with sharp teeth and claws. And they are fearless. One thing they have not been able to fight off, however, is cancer. The devils face a rare form of cancer that is plaguing their island of Tasmania, which is off the coast of Australia.
The cancer was first identified in the devils in 1996 and it has spread like wildfire ever since. Their habits during eating and mating, that include biting and scratching each other, have helped spread it. The cancer has claimed 90 percent of the population and scientists expect them to go extinct within the next 25 years unless people take action.
Conservation efforts have been ramped up as the cancer spreads among the species. A six-part documentary, Devil Island, has been produced about the Tasmanian devil and has been shown in Australia, France and the UK.
Another part of the conservation plan has been loaning out the devils to different zoos. There are currently eight of them on loan to zoos in the U.S. Four were brought from the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Australia to the San Diego Zoo in October and four were relocated to the Albuquerque Bio-Park in December. They are in the U.S. under a long-term loan program that is designed to create awareness about the dying marsupials.
The San Diego Zoo has heard the message, loud and clear. Earlier this week, they pledged a $500,000 contribution to help save the Tasmanian devil. The money is designated to help Catherine Grueber at the University of Sydney with her work as a conservation geneticist. Her goal is to study insurance populations, breeding practices and how to best manage the population.
The plan now is to relocate the healthy Tasmanian devils until the cancerous population dies off, then return the healthy animals to their home. The healthy devils would then be used for reproduction to build up the population again.
Aside from the Tasmanian devils out on loan, 50 of them will be relocated to a temporary location on Maria Island. There, the devils will be micro-chipped, tagged with GPS devices and managed as if they were in a zoo environment.
Bob Wise, San Diego Zoo Global’s chief life sciences officer, said that their contact with each other is spreading the cancer and they have not yet found a cure. He said that they hope to save the devil species by carefully engineering a safe home for the cancer-free devils. Once the cancer dies out, along with the remaining devils, they can return to the island.
The San Diego Zoo, is dedicated to protecting and conserving Tasmanian devils from cancer. They have joined the efforts of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program and the Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia, by not only contributing money toward the research and conservation efforts, but also by showcasing the animals at the zoo so that the public can gain a better understanding of the animals that are in danger of going extinct.
By Tracy Rose