Animal Diaries Archive
The scary truth about Tasmanian Devils
8 August 2008
It is a pitch black night. A dead carcass is being ravaged and all that can be made out are large white teeth and bright red ears. All that can be heard is the breaking of bones and spine; chilling growls. This communal feeding situation gave the Tasmanian Devil their name and misleading personality traits. They are known to be aggressive, vicious and something to be scared of. But it is all a bluff; they are actually quite timid and wary animals. The only scary fact about Tasmanian Devils, is that since May 2008 they were listed as an endangered species; another amazing Australian mammal close to extinction.
Since 1996 the Devil population has been drastically affected by the Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour (DFTD). DFTD is a fatal and contagious tumour that is spread between individual devils mostly through biting at communal feedings or while mating. The disease is identified as small lesions or lumps in and around the species mouth. These tumours or cancers become larger and continue to develop around their face and neck, and can infect other parts of their body. Also due to insufficient genetic diversity, the foreign cells aren’t rejected by the Tasmanian Devils immune system. Affected devils become emaciated; the tumours interfere with their teeth and feeding and they typically die within six months.
In the mid 1990’s, Tasmanian Devils exhibited the characteristics of DFTD in the north-east of Tasmania and by May 2008 this disease had spread to 63 locations across more than 60 per cent of the state. In the north-east of the state, where the disease was first identified there has been approximately a 95 per cent decline of average spotlight sightings. Only the western third of the state appears to have a devil population that has remained healthy and uninfected by the disease. It is suggested that DFTD will continue to spread across the range of species within three to twenty years.
Save the Tasmanian Devil Program is a research initiative established to investigate this disease further and create management options. It is co-ordinated by the Department of Primary Industries and Water (DPIW) and involves researchers and experts from a range of institutions, wildlife parks and zoos (both local and interstate). Our other concern is that Tasmanian Devils lifespan does not assist in their preservation. Surprisingly healthy devils only generally live between 5-7 years of age in the wild, and this is not always increased in captivity.
Sadly, we recently lost one of our Tasmanian Devils to old age. In his time at the Zoo he fathered two joeys, one of which still lives at Australia Zoo. This species is so vulnerable and we need to do all we can to conserve one of the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial.
In loving memory of Zeke, you will be greatly missed by all of the mammal’s team.
Our Amazing Tasmanian Devils
Tasmanian Devils are the largest living carnivorous marsupial (Dasyurid) in Australia. They have sharp powerful claws and a backward facing pouch. Male dev ...more