WATCH | Why these Tasmanian devils need guardian angels
They may look cute and fuzzy, but Tasmanian devils are not to be messed with. These marsupials have had a bad rap for over 200 years for their aggressive behaviour and blood-curdling screech.
Even their scientific name translates to “flesh-lover”. But despite their fiendish nature, these devils aren’t invincible. In fact, they’re facing an insidious danger that can’t be frightened away.
Life seems to begin and end in competition for Tasmanian devils. About 20 to 30 joeys are born in a litter, and forced to tussle for a position at one of four teats inside their mother’s pouch.
With only four babies able to feed at a time, mortality rates are high. As mature adults, they prefer to dine by scavenging rather than hunting.
Tasmanian devils have jaws of iron, among the strongest of all mammals. Luckily for us, they only feast on carrion and prey on lizards, frogs, and other small animals.
But every communal meal of a carcass is a fight, and the wounds they give each other when brawling can result in near-certain demise.
The greatest threat to the species today is devil facial tumour disease (DFTD), an infectious cancer transmitted through bites.
It presents as lumps that gradually grow on their mouths and necks that inhibit chewing, breathing, vision, and even push teeth out of their gums.
Once the tumours become visible, it’s almost always fatal for the marsupial – the death rate is nearly 100%.
The devil population has been decimated by this disease, rendering them endangered.
Aussie Ark, a conservation project on mainland Australia, has a special breeding programme called Devil Ark. To date, the initiative has seen hundreds of successful births, and these new generations are safeguarding the species from extinction.
While cancer continues to pose a real risk to Tasmanian devils, we can still ensure a brighter future for the boisterous critters.