The greatest recent threat to Tasmanian devils is Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) as populations have declined up to 80% due to the contagious cancer.
The greatest recent threat to Tasmanian devils across Tasmania is Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD). In September 2006, the Tasmanian devil disease was gazetted under the Animal Health Act as a List B notifiable disease.
In diseased areas, nearly all sexually mature Tasmanian devils, older than two years of age, become infected and succumb to the disease. Juveniles as young as one year old can also be infected. This is resulting in populations with a very young age-structure in which females have only one breeding event, whereas they would normally have three.
Populations in which DFTD has been observed for several years have declined by up to 80% (approximate, due to low sample size in recent years). There is no evidence to date of the decline in devils stopping or the prevalence of the disease decreasing, but monitoring teams continue to assess Tasmanian devil populations as DFTD spreads.
Although this disease has not resulted in extinction in the past, the effect of additional, human-associated threats may pose a grave threat to the persistence of Tasmanian devil populations. There’s a real fear that Tasmanian devils could become extinct. The identification of a second type of DFTD highlights the importance of ongoing monitoring of wild populations and disease investigations as part of assisting the ongoing survival of the Tasmanian devil in the wild.
Sources: (Boyce, 2018; Bradshaw & Brook, 2005; Fahey & Kinder, 2001; Hawkins, McCallum, Mooney, Jones, & Holdsworth, 2008; Nowak, 1999; Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, April 2018,November 2018)
Image: Shane Lin