Concerted effort needed to save our devil

Like its cartoon counterpart, the Tasmanian devil has certainly had a turbulent time over the past decade or so.

That the almost the entire population has been devastated by the deadly facial tumour disease sadly isn’t new. Research has told us that 80 per cent of the population of devils in Tasmania has the disease.

In March, news broke that a large number of healthy devils as part of a Save the Tasmanian Devil Program on Forestier Peninsula had been killed on a nearby road.

Some of those devils killed had been vaccinated against the facial tumour disease.

To make matters worse, a second deadly strain of the disease, known as Devil Facial Tumour Strain Two, was found in devils in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel area in southern Tasmania.

Currently, there is no treatment for DFTD, which was first discovered back in 1996.

Transmissible cancers such as DFTD are extremely rare in nature, according to researchers, only occurring in Tasmanian devils, dogs, and clams. To have two types is even more concerning for the endangered carnivore. The good news is, however, the two strains are so similar that experts believe that any vaccine would work on both.

Yesterday’s report that several wildlife parks involved in the STDP were considering refusing to be part of the next release of healthy devils is concerning.

Any hope of saving this incredibly animal from extinction relies on a concerted effort between researchers hoping to find a cure for the disease, and wildlife experts fighting to put healthy devils back into our forests, parks and bushland.

Their concerns and frustrations are understandable – they fear that putting unquarantined, healthy devils into areas where diseased devils already inhabit is condemning the healthy ones to a horrible death. Of greatest concern is the admission that the overall state of Tasmania’s devil population has not improved despite all the hard work from the dedicated men and women involved in the fight to save the species.

Insurance populations may be a viable option for helping restrict the demise of the animal in the wild, but it seems clear that the best hope to save the devil from total extinction still lies with modern science and an effective vaccine. If the tragic history of the Tasmanian tiger has taught us anything, is that once these wonderful animals are gone, they are lost forever.