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Devil Facial Tumor Disease


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(Photo courtesy of Devil Ark)

The Tasmanian Devil, the iconic Tasmanian marsupial, is at serious risk of extinction from the highly contagious Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), a terribly painful and lethal form of contagious cancer, and numbers have plummeted to less than 10 percent in some parts of Tasmania.

With no vaccine or cure for DFTD, an ambitious breeding program is the key to the devil’s survival. This and other assurance breeding programs like Devil Ark are breeding disease free, healthy devils that will repopulate Tasmania once DFTD has run its destructive course.

Located at an elevation of 1,350 meters in the Barrington Tops, Devil Ark provides the perfect breeding environment for devils. The Tasmanian-like vegetation and cool, wet and snowy conditions means the devils feel right at home.

Genetic diversity amongst devils is rapidly diminishing in the wild of Tasmania, and the only way to preserve what genetic diversity remains is to captive breed as many disease-free individuals as possible.

(Photo courtesy of Devil Ark)

(Photo courtesy of Devil Ark)

Devil Ark is very different to a zoo where small enclosures mean loss of natural behavior. Devils at Devil Ark are kept in huge free range enclosures; a natural environment to maintain their wild behavior, something not possible in a normal zoo environment. These conditions also have yielded more reproductive success than any other captive breeding program for devils.

The Tasmanian Devil has suffered multiple genetic bottlenecks. This has led to a substantially smaller gene pool because of inbreeding. Unfortunately for the devil, their immune system doesn’t recognize the DFTD cancer cells as being foreign, so their bodies don’t fight them.

Passed on by biting while feeding, fighting and mating, Devil Facial Tumor Disease is one of the only cancers known to spread as a contagious disease. Once infected, signs of the disease appear in the mouth within a few short months, usually in the form of small lesions. These quickly develop into large tumors that grossly distort the face, neck and sometimes other parts of the body. The devil soon finds it difficult to eat and drink, and usually dies from starvation, dehydration and the breakdown of body functions within six months of contracting the disease. In the later stages of the illness, the cancer typically metastasizes to vital organs, including the lungs and brain. It is a truly devastating disease that destroys the devil in the most horrendous way.

(Photo courtesy of Devil Ark)

(Photo courtesy of Devil Ark)

First detected in 1996, it is now estimated that less than 10 percent of the original wild devil population remains; just 25,000. The only positive thing about DFTD is that it is only transmitted by biting and not carried in the air, soil or plants.

When the last wild devil is gone, and the disease is gone, this program can start to repopulate Tasmania with healthy and disease-free devils.

Make a difference today by adopting a devil!