Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Tasmanian devils face cancer threat

Experts say culling alone will not be enough to protect Tasmanian devils from a cancer capable of wiping out wild populations of the marsupial

An infectious cancer could wipe out wild populations of the Tasmanian devil within 25 years if no way of controlling the disease can be found, experts predict.

Culling affected animals will not on its own save the iconic marsupial, a study has shown.

Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) was first detected in north-east Tasmania in 1996.

Since then the cancer, thought to be transmitted by biting during mating, has reduced populations of the world's largest surviving marsupial carnivore by 60%.

Testing and culling is widely used to control disease in livestock, but the same strategy is not proven to work for wild animals.

Between 2004 and 2010, culling trials of devils on an isolated peninsula in south-eastern Tasmania failed to halt the spread of DFTD.

Now scientists have simulated the impact of more aggressive culling and found it would mean having to kill unrealistically large numbers of the animals.

Nick Beeton, from the University of Tasmania, said: "For all the models we used, we found the removal rate required to suppress disease was higher than that which would be feasible in the field.

"Disease suppression can only work if you can catch enough of the infected animals in the population to make sure the disease won't bounce back. Our models show that even for a trappable animal like the Tasmanian devil, catching enough of them to eradicate disease is a tall order."

The findings were reported in the Journal of Applied Ecology, published by the British Ecological Society.

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