Page last updated at 11:14 GMT, Friday, 19 December 2008

Hopes dashed for Tasmanian Devils

A Tasmanian Devil
Tasmanian Devils could be extinct in the wild within 20 years

A Tasmanian Devil which experts hoped might save his species has contracted the deadly facial tumour that threatens the species with extinction.

Cedric was believed to have a natural immunity to the disease which he could pass on to future generations.

But two tumours on his face, which have been removed, have cast doubt on the two-year project to save the creatures.

Scientists warn that the carnivorous marsupial could be extinct in the wild within 20 years.

Cedric was the first Tasmanian Devil to show signs of immunity to the disfiguring disease, which has wiped out half the devil population in Tasmania.

Infected animals become so consumed by the cancer they can no longer eat or see, and eventually die of starvation.

Prof Greg Woods, from the University of Tasmania, told Australia's ABC News that Cedric's tumours had now been cut out - the first time surgery has been used to try to save a devil from the cancer.

'Very disappointing'

He said Cedric was expected to make a full recovery but the development was "very deflating, very, very disappointing".

"But we move on, and we have learnt a lot from him so far," he said.

Prof Woods said more tests would be carried out to analyse how Cedric's tumours developed.

A breeding programme involving the animal has been put on hold.

Cedric was captured in western Tasmania last year, along with his half-brother, Clinky.

Both were injected with dead tumours by scientists. Clinky produced no antibodies, but Cedric did, and appeared to have built-in defences against the illness.

Tasmanian Devils are indigenous to the island of Tasmania. It is believed they were named devils by early European colonists because of their loud screeches.

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