May 22, 2009

Tasmanian Devil Put On Endangered List In Australia

Australia's famed Tasmanian devil has been labeled endangered due to an infectious and lethal cancer, the government announced.

Devil facial tumor disease exterminates the animals in three short months by spreading all over their faces and mouths, stopping them from eating.

"This disease has led to the decline of about 70 percent of the Tasmanian devil population since the disease was first reported in 1996," Environment Minister Peter Garrett announced in a statement.

"Strong action is being taken to find out more about this disease and to stop its spread," he added.

The government has pledged $7.8 million for research over the disease and will back captive breeding plans, but scientists insist that more work is required.

The plans also include the relocation of breeding pairs to sanctuaries and to defend disease-free areas on peninsulas with fences several miles kilometers long to keep the healthy marsupials from leaving.

Hamish McCallum, senior scientist in the rescue program, stated that the focal advantage of the listing is that it recognized the somber threat the species is facing.

"I'm hoping that it might cause a philanthropist or corporate sponsors to say: 'Hey, this is serious' and to chip in some serious money," McCallum said.

Garrett remains a little doubtful, saying that: "I guess my optimism has diminished a little bit, but I'm still hopeful that of the various angles we're looking at, one of them will come through and we won't lose the animals in the wild."

The devil remains on the island state of Tasmania after rivalry with the dingo caused its extinction on mainland Australia. It is Australia's biggest marsupial carnivore after the extinction of its relative last century, the Tasmanian tiger.

An experiment that possibly may identify the disease in a devil before it grows infectious is currently being investigated. Although scientists are hopeful that this will fortify the small populations, the test is not yet established as completely accurate.

Image Courtesy Wayne McLean - Wikipedia