Almost all Tasmanian devils are devastated by a lethal, transferrable, cancer-like disease called Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) that grows tumors on the face until the creature starves to death.
In 1996, many populations of Tasmanian devils were first recorded to be devastated by a new, usually lethal, cancer-like disease called Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) that was spreading rapidly throughout Tasmania. This transferrable cancer had a female origin and evolved different strains to quickly spread throughout the state. In 2014, a second type of DFTD was first recorded in the Channel area, this time having male origination. Today, nearly all devils of mating age or over are infected.
While there are differences between the two types of cancer, both DFTD 1 and 2 are contagious and fatal. Once infected, devils usually die within a few months of the cancer becoming visible. The tumors are first noticed in and around the mouth as small lesions or lumps, then develop into large tumors around the face and neck and sometimes even in other parts of the body. Badly affected devils have many tumors throughout the body. Sometimes, the tumors grow inside the mouth and push out the teeth, making it difficult for the devil to eat. Death results from starvation and the breakdown of organs and body functions as a result of the cancer.
There is some evidence that this disease is not new, but it is endemic to Tasmanian devils. Historical record and epidemiological modeling suggest that this epidemic may cycle through Tasmanian devil populations at 77-146 year intervals.