It is not understood how such a virulent and aggressive cancer originated, or if modern factors such as poisons, herbicides or other environmental pollutants played a role in its establishment. The fact that it appears to be adaptable, having already mutated into a number of strains does not bode well for the hope of finding sustained natural or acquired immunity in the wild population.

Status of Tasmanian devils in the wild

The unfolding demise of the Tasmanian devil has exceeded ‘normal’ worst-case epidemics and continues to do so.
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The dirt on DFTD

DFTD is one of the only cancers known to spread as a contagious disease. The cancer is spread from devil to devil primarily through biting.
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Possibility of disease resistance
in the northwest

Despite media portrayal of scientific 'breakthroughs', long-term survival will still rely upon the preservation of genetically varied devils from as wide a geographic range as possible.
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The crucial role of captive breeding

The aim of the 'insurance population’ is to establish and maintain healthy, genetically diverse Tasmanian devils for successful release into the wild when required.
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The devil's in the details:
more about Devil Ark

Since the development of the Devil Ark concept, the Australian Reptile Park has been busy working with a range of partners to create this ambitious breeding program.
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More about Devil Ark founders and partners

Devil Ark is being developed by the Australian Reptile Park in partnership with the Foundation for Australia's Most Endangered Species.
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The gruesome signs of DFTD were first noticed in devils in 1996 in the Mt William National Park area of north-eastern Tasmania. The disease rapidly spread, and despite the best hopes and efforts of researchers, field workers and government agencies, a seemingly unstoppable epidemic has unfolded, with ever increasing doubt about the survival of Tasmania’s most iconic species.

Under normal circumstances, cancer cannot be “caught”. However, DFTD is one of only three recorded cancers that can spread like a contagious disease. It is characterised by tumours around the mouth and head, and is restricted to Tasmanian devils. Following the appearance of the first blemishes, DFTD invariably proves fatal within three to twelve months – a result of starvation, dehydration or the breakdown of body functions as the disease spreads to major organs.

Devils in rapid decline

A decade after the first reports of DFTD from north-eastern Tasmania, it was estimated that the total wild population had dropped from 250,000 devils to 150,000 devils. By 2011, the population had crashed to 50,000 – just 15% of the pre-disease population – with no end to the decline in sight.

Find out why Tasmanian devils are in rapid decline
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