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Doomsday Close for Tasmanian Devils?

Tasmanian Devil with Devil Facial Tumor Disease
Tasmanian Devil with Devil Facial Tumor Disease

The world's population of Tasmanian devils has dropped by 90% since an infectious cancer that targets the animals was first identified in 1996 and now some scientists worry that only 2,000 of the species is left in the world.

The facial tumor disease attacks the mouth, "filling it with tumors that make it impossible for the animal to eat," according to a report in Scientific American.

It gets worse.

"Starvation and death follow within three to six months. Transmission is easy, because devils frequently bite one another on the mouth during mating or while fighting for territory. No DFTD cure or vaccine exists, despite intensive research to try to stop the spread of the disease."

Devil Facial Tumor Disease is just one of three recorded cancers that spread like a contagious disease. The malady gets transmitted from devil to devil through biting.

As noted by Sky News, the disease has apparently mutated into 13 different strains. One idea to save the species is to quarantine a healthy population and let them thrive in isolation. On Tuesday, a program to prevent the Tasmanian Devils' extinction got underway when the first group of the creatures - 30 in this particular group - got released in a reserve in Australia. Organizers say that eventually the sanctuary will provide refuge to more than 1000 devils.