I’m researching a feature about conservation volunteering for Australia and New Zealand magazine at the moment, and have been upset to hear what’s happening to the Tasmanian Devil.
They’re much cuter in real life than in the Looney Tunes cartoon. They’re not fussy eaters, and have one of the strongest jaws in the world so will chomp down bones and all, but they’re actually quite a shy marsupial, and an icon the Tasmanians are very proud of.
Problem is, the Devils have developed a lethal form of facial tumour that distorts their face (see gross photo below) and eventually kills them. Unusually for a cancer, it’s contagious, and spreading fast. It’s predicted they might die out all together in the next 20 years if the rate of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) infection cannot be slowed.
The Tasmanian government has brought in a fantastic volunteering programme to get people involved in helping to save the Devil though. You can join the DFDT team on 11 or 12-day field monitoring trips into the Tasmanian countryside, helping to clean and maintain traps, and record the details of trapped Devils.
Greg Irons, head-keeper at Bonorong Wildlife Centre, has also been telling me about how locals and holidaymakers alike can get involved in feeding and caring for orphaned Devils at his centre, as well as helping build enclosures and educating visitors to the centre.
With all hands on deck, and enough money spent on research, perhaps a cure or vaccination for DFTD will be found. But Australia’s track record is not good – it has the worst record in the world in terms of mammal extinction. There is also a massive risk that the disease could jump from the Tassie Devil to another species….There’s a great little video on the Save the Tasmanian Devil website if you want to find out more.