Tasmanian devils face end of days in the wild

The Tasmanian devil could go extinct in the wild before disease-free animals are reintroduced back into their natural habitats.

As I've written before, a voracious, contagious cancer-- devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) -- is running rampant through Tasmanian devil populations. The cancer, which is transmitted by bites during sex, causes terrible mouth tumors which make it impossible for the devils to eat, leading to death by starvation. More than 50% of wild devils have died off over the last 12 years.

Luckily, a disease-free population has been quarantined in a captive breeding program. And one devil, named Cedric, has so far proved to be immune to the disease, raising hope that his genes can be passed on to later generations.

But scientists now say that even if the disease-free animals breed true and stay healthy, they won't be reintroduced into the wild until DFTD is eradicated from the wild. But with no cure for DFTD in sight, that means Tasmanian devils could go extinct in the wild in order to allow the disease to die off as well. Only when the disease is gone will disease-free animals be reintroduced into nature, and that could take 20-30 years.

Until then, unless a cure is discovered, it will be a long, slow, painful extinction for one of nature's most interesting creatures. So long, Taz.