Tasmanian devil listed as endangered animal

May 21, 2008 5:53:57 AM PDT

The government in the Australian state of Tasmania - the only place in the world where the carnivorous marsupials exist in the wild - said it is determined to save the animal from extinction.

"We are committed to finding an answer and saving the Tasmanian devil for Tasmanians and the world," state Primary Industries Minister David Llewellyn said in a statement.

The grotesque facial tumors were first spotted in the devil population around a decade ago. The fast-growing cancer, spread through biting, spreads over the marsupial's face and mouth and prevents it from eating, often killing it within months.

Scientists have estimated that the wild devil population has fallen from around 140,000 in the 1990s to 80,000 in 2006 - the latest year statistic were available - due to the spread of the tumors.

The disease has spread so quickly that scientists last year estimated that within five years, there will be no disease-free population in Tasmania.

The state's reclassification of the devil from vulnerable to endangered status qualifies it for greater government conservation assistance. The federal government will now be under pressure to upgrade the devil on its national threatened species listing.

A number of isolated disease-free communities of devils have been established in Tasmania and in mainland Australia to breed populations as "insurance" against extinction.

Hamish McCallum, a wildlife research professor with the University of Tasmania, says he hopes the change in listing will lead to greater funding to protect the animal.

Early European settlers named the feisty marsupial the devil for its spine-chilling screeches, dark appearance and reputed bad temper which, along with its steel-trap jaw, made it appear incredibly fierce. It later because infamous worldwide as the Looney Tunes cartoon character Taz.


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