15th Nov 2012 12:13am | By Hugh Radojev
A small group of Tasmanian devils are to be transferred to a small island of the state's coast in the hope they might start a self-sustaining population free of the diseases which have ravaged their species
Brian Wightman, Tasmania's Environment Minister said that 14 of the marsupials would be selected from amongst a number of captive breeding programs and sent to the nearby Maria Island in the hope of ensuring the survival of the species in the wild.
Once rampant on the Tasmanian mainland the devil has been laid low by a contagious facial tumour that have killed some 90 per cent of the animals population since its discovery in 1996.
The disease (a kind of cancer) causes large tumours to grow on the animals face, muzzle and mouth eventually rendering the devil's unable to eat where they subsequently die of starvation. It is also highly contagious, with the disease being spread through healthy devil's biting infected ones.
Mr Wightman said that the plans to transfer disease free devils to the Maria Island wildlife sanctuary represented a "major step forward" in the race against the marsupials extinction.
The plight of the devil has become so bad that wildlife authorities in the state have begun breeding an "insurance population" in captivity so as to protect against the species being completely wiped out.
"The Maria Island translocation is designed to establish a self-sustaining population of healthy wild devils in a safe haven where they are protected from interaction with the deadly facial tumour disease," Mr Wightman said.
"It will strengthen the insurance population of disease-free Tasmanian devils, help preserve wild traits in the insurance population and provide genetic stock for future reintroductions."
It is thought that the devil's wont have too negative an effect on the species of animals already found on Maria Island and that as the island has never been a habitat for the devil's before it is impossible that the facial tumour disease exists there.