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Mixed Feelings about Tasmanian Devil Rescue

By paigemom     Apr 10, 2007 in Technology
Tasmanian devils, the real-life inspiration for Warner Brothers' wild and crazy Taz, are being relocated from Tasmania to another island off Australia to hopefully prevent their extinction by a contagious cancer.
However, some scientists worry that the move could endanger rare animals on the island. Other experts say it is a last resort, and that the Tasmanian devils shouldn't be any threat to local wildlife since they are scavengers, not predators.
"The path to extinction is looking pretty certain on Tasmania," said William Karesh of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, who organized a workshop in Australia to help the government and biologists develop a plan to save the devils.
The not-very-cute animals with powerful jaws and a bloodcurdling growl are being wiped out on their home island of Tasmania by a contagious cancer that causes debilitating facial tumors.
The cancer was first noticed in the mid-1990s in northeast Tasmania, where 90 percent of the devils have since perished -- and the disease is spreading. If something isn't done, scientists predict that there will be no cancer-free devils in Tasmania within five years. Tasmania is the only place in the world where the devils exist outside zoos.
"I think there's a real risk of extinction within 20 years across the whole of Tasmania," said Hamish McCallum, a professor of wildlife research at the University of Tasmania.
The devils are being transferred to Maria Island, once a 19th-century prison and now home to several endangered bird species
The move is causing a great deal of controversy. Scientists do not know what the result of introduced scavengers will have on Maria Island's ecology.
"I don't want to get into an argument about whether a devil is worth more than a forty-spotted pardalote," McCallum said, referring to an endangered bird species that has made Maria Island its home. "But in my opinion, the risk posed to endangered species by devils would be minimal."
It's a sorry day when we don't have enough safe havens for all the species we've endangered.
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