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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tasmanian devils listed as endangered in Australia

By Rod Mcguirk, Associated Press
CANBERRA, Australia — "The Tasmanian devil, a snarling fox-sized marsupial made notorious by its Looney Tunes cartoon namesake Taz, was listed in Australia as an endangered species Friday because of a contagious cancer that has wiped out most of the wild population.
The upgrade from "vulnerable" under Australian environmental law entitles the world's largest marsupial carnivore to greater protection in the island state of Tasmania, Environment Minister Peter Garrett said in a statement."
"Devils do not exist in the wild outside Tasmania, although mainland zoos are breeding captive populations as a strategy against total extinction."

"Their numbers have declined by 70% since the facial cancer was first reported in 1996. The disease is caused by bites inflicted on each other's faces as part of a bizarre mating ritual or while squabbling over food. It causes grotesque facial tumors that eventually prevent them from feeding, leading to starvation within months.
"Strong action is being taken to find out more about this disease and to stop its spread," Garrett said.

Here are some facts I have gathered about the Tasmanian Devil:
"Tasmanian devils are mammals and belong to the marsupial infraclass of mammals.The Tasmanian Devil is the only non-extinct member of the genus Sarcophilus. Because they were seen as a threat to livestock in Tasmania, devils were hunted until 1941, when they became officially protected. Since the late 1990s devil facial tumor disease has reduced the devil population significantly and now threatens the survival of the species, which in May 2008 was declared to be endangered. Programs are currently being undertaken by the Tasmanian government to reduce the impact of the disease."

"These mammals have a squat and thick build, with a large head and a tail which is about half its body length. The devil stores body fat in its tail, so unhealthy devils often have thin tails. Unusually for a marsupial, its forelegs are slightly longer than its hind legs. Devils can run up to 13 km (8.1 mi) per hour for short distances. The fur is usually black, although irregular white patches on the chest and rump are common. Males are usually larger than females, having an average head and body length of 652 mm (25.7 in), with a 258 mm (10.2 in) tail, and an average weight of 8 kg (18 lb). Females have an average head and body length of 570 mm (22 in), with a 244 mm (9.6 in) tail, and an average weight of 6 kg (13 lb). This correlates to an animal which is the size of a small dog."

"The average life expectancy of a Tasmanian Devil in the wild is estimated at six years, although they may live longer in captivity. The devil has long whiskers on its face and in clumps on the top of the head. These help the devil locate prey when foraging in the dark, and aid in detecting when other devils are close during feeding. When agitated, the devil can produce a strong odour, its pungency rivaling even the skunk."
"Tasmanian Devils are widespread and fairly common throughout Tasmania,but are quickly dying from a face cancer. Found in all habitats on the island, including the outskirts of urban areas, they particularly like dry sclerophyll forests and coastal woodlands. The Tasmanian Devil is a noctural (active at night) and crepuscular (they appear and begin their activity in the twilight) hunter, spending the days in dense bush or in a hole. Tasmanian Devils can take prey up to the size of a small rats, but in practice they are opportunistic, and eat carrion more often than they hunt live prey."
"Early European settlers named the feisty marsupial the devil for its spine-chilling screeches, dark appearance and reputed bad temper which, along with its steeltrap jaw, made it appear incredibly fierce."
:Tasmanian Devil)
Here are two links to videos which discuss various aspects of the Tasmanian devil:

Sadly, Tasmanian devils are threatened by a facial cancer which spreads from devil to devil by their habit of biting each other.This results in an affected devil's face being covered with tumors
The ailment produces enormous growths that push the animals' teeth out of line and make it difficult for them to eat. Afflicted animals generally die of starvation within six months. <:(

The disease has spread rapidly. Today biologists report that few animals evade it long enough to live into old age, which for a Tasmanian devil means about five years.
Scientists have long known the disease is infectious, but nobody understood what caused it. Some suspected that it might be transmitted via a virus.
But Anne-Maree Pearse, a biologist at Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries, Water, and Environment, thought something more exotic might be at work.
Now she and coworker Kate Swift believe they've found the answer: The animals inject cancer cells into each other when they engage in mating battles. When a cancerous animal bites a healthy one, Pearse reported this month of the journal Nature, cancer cells can break off the cancerous devil's face. Some of these cancer cells are then implanted into the bite wound. There they thrive, growing into new tumors. It's a process similar to that by which human tumors multiply within a single individual: by shedding cells that move through the bloodstream.
The idea that something like this could be happening via bites, however, is new.
The smoking gun lies in the tumor cells' chromosomes, structures that contain DNA.
Tasmanian devils normally have 14 chromosomes. But the cancer cells contain only thirteen. And those 13 are "grossly abnormal," Pearse wrote in the new study.
More important, she found that the abnormalities were identical in 11 sick animals collected from widely separated regions.he tumor cells' chromosomes are so similar, Pearse wrote, that all of them must have arisen from the same source.

Presumably, one devil developed the disease several years ago then spread it to its neighbors.
Pearse noted that inbreeding, and the resulting lack of genetic diversity, may make Tasmanian devils particularly susceptible to this type of infection.
Since the animals are so genetically similar, their immune systems may not recognize the new cells as alien invaders that need to be fought.
It's like humans receiving organ transplants, she wrote—the transplant is less likely to be rejected by the body if the new organ is from a close relative. In the case of the devils,
however, the transplanted material is cancer cells capable of taking on a parasitic life of their own.

The Tasmanian government is currently attempting to quarantine healthy devil populations from infected ones. Officials could not be reached for comment, but on their Web site they note that Pearse's study "provides a high degree of confidence that keeping healthy animals away from sick ones is sufficient to prevent infection."
The officials note, however, that there are "significant practical challenges" to attempting to enforce quarantine in the wild. (source:
Source of image of Tasmanian devil:

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Thoughts worth thinking about

"Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives."-Sidney Madwed

Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every woman and man present their views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.- Albert Einstein Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. - Leo Buscaglia

A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world. - Mohammed

Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. -Albert Einstein

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Ghandi

The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves. - Helen Keller

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person. - Dr. David M. Burns

Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. -His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it. -

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity. -George Bernard Shaw

Ego's trick is to make us lose sight of our interdependence. That kind of ego-thought gives us a perfect justification to look out only for ourselves. But that is far from the truth. In reality we all depend on each other and we have to help each other. The husband has to help his wife, the wife has to help the husband, the mother has to help her children, and the children are supposed to help the parents too, whether they want to or not.-Gehlek Rinpoche Source: "The Best Buddhist Writing 2005 pg. 165

The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events---that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies---and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.