Devils under Threat
The greatest threat to Tasmanian devils is a disease called Devil Facial Tumour Disease, or DFTD for short:
Devil = it only affects Tasmanian devils
Facial = it tends to occur on the face
Tumour = cancer/neoplasm/growth
Disease = illness/sickness/disorder
Devil Facial Tumour Disease
Devil Facial Tumour Disease is a very rare form of cancer that is spread when devils bite one another while they are fighting or mating.
Devils that have this disease usually have lumps or lesions (areas where the skin is swollen, broken or bleeding) in the face or on the neck. These lumps grow into ugly, larger tumours and the cancer can spread throughout the body.
Adult devils are most affected by this disease. It is a type of cancer, and devils with this cancer usually have problems eating food. This makes them weaker, because they can't get their share of the food. Once they show signs of the disease, devils usually die in about three to six months.
How does the disease affect the devil population?
The devil population has declined by 80 percent since the early 1990s. You can see why it is such a big problem, and why scientists are working hard to find out how to limit the spread of the disease, and cure it.
Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) was first noticed in the north-east of Tasmania in the mid-1990s but has since become a much bigger problem because so many devils have been affected.
The disease mostly affects devils that are older than two years, although sometimes devils as young as one can also become infected. Scientists fear that if we lose too many adult devils, the devil population will take a very long time to recover. Once diseased, females only live long enough to breed once.
What is being done about the disease?
There are three important things being done to find a solution and help the devils.
- Scientists have studied the disease and discovered that it is a rare type of cancer which can be passed from devil to devil. More study has shown that the disease can “hide” from the devil’s immune system, and so special scientists are doing research to invent a vaccine which will help the devil fight the disease.
- Experts have ensured that large numbers of devils will survive, no matter what happens. This management plan includes putting some healthy devils in quarantine - in other words separating them from devils that do have the disease. These devils are being used in a captive breeding program called the
Insurance Population. There are more than 600 healthy devils all around Australia as part of this population!
- Wildlife officers are monitoring devils in the wild, for example by capturing some of them and recording details of their health or by using remote sensor cameras to take pictures of them, which helps to spot both healthy devils and ones that may be sick. This tells us how many devils are affected by the disease in certain areas, the age of the animals and whether they are male or female. It can also tell us how the population is managing in the face of disease.
How you can help
If you see a roadkilled, injured or sick devil, you can contact the Save The Tasmanian Devil Program on:
Link to our (adult) website
For more information see the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.