Tasmanian Devils Almost Extinct: 5 Facts About the Endangered Marsupials
Scientists are reporting that the Tasmanian devil is nearing extinction because of a highly infectious form of cancer that has wiped out 90 percent of the population. The cancer, called devil facial tumor disease, or DFTD, was first detected in 1996. There's no known cure or vaccine, and now there are only 2,000 Tasmanian devils left in the wild.
Efforts are under way to build sanctuaries for disease-free devils so they can live and breed without risk of infection. Right now, that looks like their only hope for survival.
Surge Desk offers five facts about this rare animal.
1. It has a limited range
Fossil evidence shows that the Tasmanian devil's habitat once covered a wide range of territory across southern Australia. In modern times, the devil has been confined to the island of Tasmania, which lies 150 miles off Australia's southern coast.
2. It got its name because of the sounds it makes
Tasmanian devils sound scary: They shriek, scream and growl while scavenging at night. The sounds must have terrified early Europeans in Australia, so the animal was dubbed the devil. (Its big teeth, red ears and pink mouths contributed to its fearsome image.) Interestingly, aboriginal people had their own word for the animal. They called it "tardiba," which doesn't seem to have any connection to "devil."
3. Its behavior is often misunderstood
Those bloodcurdling shrieks don't mean a devil is about to attack you. They mean that devils are trying to establish dominance among each other while feeding. Devils have also been observed opening their mouths wide in a yawning fashion, and while that puts a lot of teeth on display, it's not a sign of aggression. It's more likely to indicate fear.
4. It's the world's largest carnivorous marsupial
An adult Tasmanian devil can weigh up to 26 pounds. Unlike its fellow marsupials the kangaroo, the koala and the wallaby, it uses its strong teeth and powerful jaws to eat snakes, birds and carrion -- bones and all.
5. It's a cultural icon
Realizing that many non-Australians associate the island with its eponymous devil, Tasmanian officials have promoted the devils as a tourist attraction. Now they fear that the dwindling population could decrease tourism revenues. The Tasmanian government spent years wrangling with Warner Bros. over rights to its popular "Taz" cartoon character, which was inspired by a Tasmanian devil. In 2006, Warner Bros. agreed to donate the proceeds from sales of Taz plush toys to DFTD research.
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