January 5, 2009

Fences To Be Built For Tasmanian Devil Protection

Scientists in Australia are looking to build a fence on the island of Tasmania to prevent the spread of a cancer that has ravished the Tasmanian Devil population.

The proposed barrier would aim to separate infected from healthy animals and stop the spread of the rampant face cancer that is destroying the species.

There is no cure for the contagious disease that has already infected two-thirds of Tasmania's devil population, scientists said.

Experts warn that the world's largest marsupial carnivore could be extinct within 20 years unless action is taken.

Many believe the fence may be the best way to separate the healthy and infected animals.

Until now, scientists have been removing the healthy animals and placing them in quarantine.

Tasmanian Devil's were declared an endangered species earlier this year because of the disease, which results in facial tumors.

Several different strategies have been employed to combat the cancer, which spreads easily and progresses rapidly, aided by the lack of genetic diversity among the animals, which are found only in Tasmania.

The fence may help to stop the spread of the disease, but many experts fear wombats are likely to dig under it.

"Producing a fence to fence out a disease is a difficult technical issue," said Hamish McCallum, senior scientist in charge of the Devil Facial Tumor Disease program.

"It isn't just a matter of slinging up something like a rabbit-proof fence."

Recent research showed that the devils couldn't pass on the disease to their offspring, but a setback emerged when a Tasmanian devil named Cedric, who was thought to be immune to the cancer, had contracted the disease.

The BBC's Nick Bryant reported from Sydney that two coin-sized tumors were cut out of his face and, although it is hoped he will make a full recovery, it casts doubt on much of the research work conducted over the past two years.

Image Courtesy Wayne McLean - Wikipedia


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