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16 June 2005

Tasmanian Devil

Find out about Tasmanian devils and the terrible disease that has put them at risk of extinction.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: This is an unprecedented wildlife rescue mission.

Not only does plucking 25 young Tasmanian devils from the wild give them the best chance of outliving a mysterious fatal disease, but the radical intervention may also end up saving the entire species.

Since it first appeared nine years ago, the disease has wiped out about half the wild population of Tasmanian devils. It's spread across at least 65 per cent of the Island State.

The Tasmanian devil is the world's largest surviving carnivorous marsupial, a powerful, noisy king of the forest. Scientists still can't explain what's causing the deadly disease, or even how to diagnose it before the apparently contagious lesions and tumours break out, weakening devils to the point of starvation.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Researchers now believe the tumours are unlikely to be caused by a virus. Some groundbreaking cell studies have revealed an obscure form of cancer.

STEPHEN PYECROFT (VETERINARY PATHOLOGIST): Maybe the cancer cells themselves are being transmitted between the animals, so maybe in an interaction at a food site or there's biting in that interaction, the cells themselves are actually physically transferred.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: The Tasmanian Government has promised to investigate the possible role of toxins, either natural or man-made, as herbicides and 1080 poison are routinely used in the State's forests.

With no sign of natural immunity emerging in diseased communities, wildlife managers are resorting to a last-ditch strategy to save the species from possible extinction.

The culling of diseased devils and efforts to establish control lines around disease-free zones are two latest management responses. While captive devils in local and interstate wildlife parks remain disease free, authorities believe colonies of genetically diverse young wild devils would be the best insurance. After trapping and closely monitoring animals in the Narawntapu National Park in the State's north for the past six months, officers are confident that this is a healthy devil haven, most likely due to three water boundaries and some unfriendly devil habitat to the south which may have kept diseased visitors away. A few of the local freshly weaned juveniles are being recruited for the captive colony program.

HEATHER HESTERMAN: We know the mums are healthy, so fingers crossed, paws crossed, these ones are healthy as well.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: The devils will be kept under close scrutiny in quarantine pens, including a stint on a disease-free offshore island. If there's no outbreak of facial tumours within a year, this devil will be bound for an interstate zoo, possibly carrying the burden of ensuring the survival of her species.

story notes

If something is unprecedented, itís never happened before.

rescue mission
To rescue means to save. And a mission is an important job, especially a job that someone feels itís their duty to complete.

Here, plucking means suddenly or quickly removing.

Tasmanian devils
This is a Tasmanian devil. It's scientific name is Sarcophilus harrisii.

Outliving means living longer than.

Fatal means deadly or able to kill

radical intervention
Radical means new and extreme. Intervention refers to the act of becoming involved in a situation in order to improve it.

entire species
all Tasmanian devils

wiped out
eradicated; completely got rid of

Example: It didn't take long to wipe out the dodo.
Click here for more idioms and common expressions.

Here spread is the past participle of the irregular verb spread.
more information: spread

Carnivorous means meat eating. A carnivore is an animal that only eats meat.

Example: Lions are also carnivores.

A marsupial is a type of mammal thatís born before itís completely developed.

The mother carries its young in a pouch at the front of her body like this wallaby.

A tumour is growth or lump. Itís a mass of diseased cells that can cause an illness.

A haven is a safe place.

Here kept is the past participle of the irregular verb keep.
more information: keep

Facial means to do with the face.