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Disease-Free Population Of Tasmanian Devils In Australia May Save Marsupial Species From Extinction

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Scientists have found a healthy group of Tasmanian devils in Australia. The discovery offers hope for the survival of the endangered species.

The small population found on remote Southwest National Park appears untouched by the cancer-causing disease that threatens the iconic marsupial. The 14 devils did not show signs of Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD).

Devil Facial Tumor Disease

DFTD is a transmissible cancer that spreads among Tasmanian devils. The condition results in the emergence of tumors on the face and the inside of the mouth of infected animals. The tumors usually become very large, which can cause death. The disease is responsible for the massive drop in the species' population pushing them to the brink of extinction.

DFTD is spread through biting and the devils are known to bite each other frequently when they fight over food and mates. No treatment is available to cure DFTD. Although researchers have tested several chemotherapeutic agents, none has so far shown any efficacy in treating the disease.

Hope For The Dwindling Population Of Tasmanian Devils

The discovery of devils that seem untouched by DFTD is a breakthrough in efforts to save and preserve the species.

Since DFTD was first observed in the 1990s, the population of the wild devils has dropped by 80 percent. Efforts to bolster the number of the species faced setbacks since many of these creatures are killed on the road.

The newly found species was in an isolated location, which likely helped them survive. Their isolation makes them less likely to encounter infected individuals or get hit by passing cars as they forage for food.

"The devils we caught are likely to have a large home range. They are having to travel long distances along the coast to find food and are moving backwards and forwards as they forage for protein," said Samantha Fox, from Toledo Zoo and leader of the expedition team that spent eight days in the wilderness.

Experts are hopeful that the new bloodline can help restore some genetic strength to the genetically depleted species. They also hope that the isolated location could help the newly found population remain disease-free.

"Facial tumour disease travels from devil to devil through the landscape and clearly in the past devils did get through there," said Save the Tasmanian Devil Program manager David Pemberton. "It is very isolated geographically with terrain that devils tend not to cross. So to date it hasn't happened and with any luck it might not."

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