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article imageZoo officials on edge after murder of rare Tasmanian devil

By Megan Hamilton     Oct 22, 2014 in Crime
Albuquerque - Tasmanian devils are known for their feisty temperament, but this wasn't enough to save one of the little creatures from a cruel death at the hands of a stranger who crushed its skull with a slab of asphalt.
Jasper, along with three other Tasmanian devils was shipped from Australia to the Albuquerque Bio Park Zoo last December, The Guardian reports.
Sadder still, it appears that Jasper did not die quickly. Evidence from an examination by the zoo's head veterinarian Ralph Zimmerman shows that the injured creature crawled to a log in the enclosure before dying. Police are trying to determine whether the perpetrator is a member of the public or a zoo employee.
"The first suspicion of how the devil died was that it was possibly killed by another devil," according to the police report. "After the necropsy was completed and veterinarian Zimmerman found a small piece of the devil's skull fractured, staff went back into the enclosure."
Inside, they found a dessert plate-sized chunk of asphalt that was 10cm thick. It's likely the killer threw it at Jasper, per The Guardian. His body was found on Wednesday morning.
Now the zoo is beefing up its security — adding more guards and surveillance cameras following the brutal attack last week, CBS News reports.
"It's going to be a robust, absolutely robust security enhancement," said Gilbert Montano, chief of staff for the mayor. "It's something we're looking at as very much a permanent fixture. I think we want to create as much as deterrent for this type of ridiculous activity in the near future."
There are surveillance cameras located on the zoo's walkways, but they don't cover the enclosure, per The Guardian. At about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, two young boys accompanied by an adult male can be seen on footage walking away from the enclosure area.
The devils were on loan from the Healesville Sanctuary in Australia in the hopes of starting a breeding program for the endangered marsupials. Jasper's killing has come as a blow to the Sanctuary director Glen Holland, who said that Jasper's killing was "terrible, terrible news," per CBS News.
Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilis harrisii) are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
About the size of a house-cat, whatever Tasmanian Devils lack in size, they more than make up for in ferocity. Well-known for being cantankerous they can quickly erupt into a rage if threatened by a predator, defending a meal, or fighting for a mate, National Geographic reports.
Native to Tasmania, these little guys earned the name "devil" when Early European settlers witnessed their ferocious displays--which included teeth-baring, lunging, and growls that could wake the dead (okay, maybe not.) Nevertheless, they are loud:
Devils are completely carnivorous and hunt small prey including snakes, birds, fish, and insects, and they don't mind feasting in large groups on carrion, National Geographic reports. Largely solitary and nocturnal, they spend their days alone resting in hollow logs, caves, or burrows, and only come out to feed at night. They are equipped with an excellent sense of sight and smell and along with long whiskers, they are quite adept at avoiding predators, finding prey and carrion. When they do find something to eat, they will voraciously gobble up the whole thing — hair, bones, and organs.
As tough and ornery as they are, the devils have not been able to fight off a devastating illness that has killed tens of thousands of them, National Geographic reports. Discovered in the middle part of the 1990's, devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) is a rapidly spreading and contagious cancer that causes huge lumps to form on the animal's mouth and head, making eating very difficult. Eventually a devil afflicted with this will starve to death.
This is what makes Jasper's death particularly tragic. Animal health experts are sequestering populations where the disease hasn't shown up and are focusing their efforts on captive breeding programs to save the devils from extinction. Indeed, time is definitely of the essence in regards to these programs because devil populations have declined by more than 60 percent, largely due to this nasty cancer, the IUCN reports.
A $5,000 reward is being offered by a city anti-crime program and a zoo booster group, CBS News reports.
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