Tasmanian devil populations will be relocated to Maria Island to save them from the deadly cancer that’s killing off their main population.The contagious cancer is a facial tumour that spreads through bites that transfer tumour cells, which grow on the face, eventually killing the animals.
By quarantining a population of healthy devils, researchers are hoping to stop the spread of the tumour.
“The Maria Island translocation is designed to establish a self-sustaining population of healthy wild devils in a safe haven where they are protected from interaction with the deadly facial tumour disease,” Tasmania’s Environment Minister Brian Wightman told Phys.org. “It will strengthen the insurance population of disease-free Tasmanian devils, help preserve wild traits in the insurance population and provide genetic stock for future reintroductions.”
Photo: AP/Save the Tasmanian Devil Program/dapd
The cancer known as Devil Facial tumour Disease is only one of three recorded cancers that can spread like a contagious disease. The infected devils develop tumors around their mouth, face, neck, and sometimes other parts of their body.These tumors interfere with their feeding and kill the animals within six months of infection. Since the cancer was discovered the number of Tasmanian devils has plummeted by 91 per cent.
Maria Island is a national park where no cars are permitted, and can only be reached by boat. The 14 cancer free devils going to the island were carefully selected from captive breeding programs across Australia.
Experts say they are unlikely to have a big impact on the island and its ecosystem because they are scavengers. The move will be monitored carefully and if it proves successful they plan to increase the population to 50 animals over the next two years.
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