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Last Updated: Monday, 22 October 2007, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
International bid to save Devils
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Tasmanian devil. Image: Getty Images
Numbers of the marsupials have plunged over the last decade
Australian researchers are teaming up with zoos and wildlife parks around the world in a bid to save the iconic Tasmanian Devil.

The world's largest carnivorous marsupial has been devastated by a mysterious facial tumour.

Experts fear that the unusual animal could be extinct within 30 years.

It is hoped that by relocating healthy animals away from Tasmania, the future of the species can be safeguarded.

The cantankerous Tasmanian Devil was given its name by early European settlers.

Although it is only the size of a small dog, this carnivorous marsupial can look and sound exceptionally fierce.

But despite the appearance of strength and aggression, the Devil population in Tasmania is in real trouble.

A cancer that eats away at the mouth and face has in some parts of the island killed more than 90% of adults.

It is thought the disease is spread when the animals bite each when they are mating or fighting.

Researchers are now relocating healthy specimens to zoos on the Australian mainland.

'Insurance policy'

Wildlife parks in the United States and Europe will take part in an international rescue mission.

Professor Hamish McCallum from the University of Tasmania describes the project as an "insurance policy", but says that efforts to sustain Devils in the wild must also continue.

"In my firm opinion, a captive population on its own is not sufficient. We need to be trying to maintain free ranging populations as well," he said.

Prof McCallum said that current indications show the animal could become extinct on the mainland of Tasmania within 30 years.

However this programme would mean that they could release captive animals into the wild.

There are also plans to introduce these nocturnal marsupials to disease-free islands off Tasmania.

Breeding in captivity is not easy, which makes the recent birth of four Devils at a wildlife sanctuary in Queensland so significant.

Newborn Devils are the size of a grain of rice, and the ones born in Queensland were the first babies to be produced under the captive breeding programme.



SEE ALSO
Experts tackle the devil's tumour
20 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Bites spread fatal 'devil' cancer
02 Feb 06 |  Science/Nature



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