02 April, 2009

Saving the Devil

Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) is a fatal condition affecting Tasmanian devils throughout most of the Australian state of Tasmania. DFTD is characterized by facial cancers, which typically first appear around the mouth as small lesions. The lesions later develop into larger tumors around the face and neck, interfering with feeding. Many devils become emaciated, and females lose their young. Most devils die within six months of the lesions first appearing.

One of the most unusual characteristics of DFTD is that it is one of only three cancers known to spread like a contagious disease. DFTD has wiped out almost half of Tasmania's devil population, and in 2008 the animal was listed as an endangered species. Extinction has been predicted to occur within a time frame of 25 years with the persistence of the disease.

Despite the grim situation that is facing the Tasmanian devil, scientists have been working diligently to save the species. Such programs as population monitoring, disease diagnostics, and insurance population building have been successfully implemented. In addition, researchers recently announced that a test has been developed that can detect whether a devil has DFTD before outward signs can be seen. The simple test may be able to aid in slowing the spread of the disease in wild populations.

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