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Bedeviling Details on Saving Tasmanian Devils from Extinction

By Sandy Sand     Feb 11, 2009 in Science
Australia is having a devil of a time trying to save its devils, but a little help may be on the way from a few friends at Loony Toons, cartoon home to Taz.
Most of us are familiar with Taz, Loony Toons cantankerous devil from Tasmania, the island state of Australia that is the only natural home for the world's largest marsupial carnivores.
Sounding more dangerous than the nasty devils themselves, they are endanger of going extinct from a contagious facial cancer, which they spread by biting each other, if a double fence isn’t built to contain the snarling fox-sized, ferocious marsupials.
Worried that the contagion may spread to areas where the devils are cancer-free, scientists say the fence must be built within the next two years.
Another problem facing them is their biggest rival, the European fox, which is thriving, and may soon come to be the dominant species. If that happens, Australian scientists fear the devils may not be able to survive in the wild.
Hamish McCallum, a senior scientist with the devil rescue program, predicted that the devils could go extinct within 20 years if something isn’t done.
Scientists were hoping to find a genetic solution to the disease through a young devil named Cedric. He exhibited signs that he had a natural immunity to the disease, but in December of 2008, he contracted a second strain of the cancer which had mutated.
Some help is coming to aid the devils in the form of cash donations from Warner Bros., which owns Taz the cartoon, and Ted Turner, who established cable television’s Cartoon Network.
There are approximately 170 zoo-bred devils in Australia, and while plans are in the works to establish a wild colony of devils on uninhabited Maria Island, the devil is in the details. The plan is controversial for fear that introducing devils to the island could endanger rare species of beetles and birds.
More about Tasmanian devil, Endangered, Saving species
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