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America And Australia Join Forces To Save Tasmanian Devil

devil 2Creativecommons.org/SJ Bennett

In the first initiative of its kind, an American zoo is partnering with an Australian university to save the Tasmanian Devil in the wild.

San Diego Zoo Global and the University of Sydney have joined together in a unique collaboration designed to assist the rare marsupial through the re-introduction and careful management of a disease-free population. Tasmanian Devils have become increasingly threatened in the wild by the spread of a fatal cancer.

devil 1Creativecommons.org/Sanjoy Ghosh

"These populations will be managed in a way that maintains all of the genetic diversity of the species away from the disease," said Kathy Belov, professor of veterinary science at the University of Sydney. "Ultimately, the disease will wipe out Devils in the wild, but these newly created disease-free populations will be used to re-populate the wild once it is safe to do so."
 
An important part of the project will be the reintroduction of 50 Devils onto Maria Island off the east coast of Tasmania. The group will be carefully managed much as they would in a zoo setting by selecting disease-free individuals and maintaining genetic diversity.

devil 3Creativecommons.org/SJ Bennett

"The cancer is spread through physical contact of one Tasmanian Devil with another and, unfortunately, no cure has been discovered," said Bob Wiese, Ph.D, chief life sciences officer, San Diego Zoo Global. "By managing a genetically diverse population safe from the disease, we hope to save the species."

The Tasmanian Devil faces extinction in the wild within 25 years because of Devil facial tumor disease, a disease that has already wiped out 85 per cent of Tasmanian Devils since 1996. 

"To save this species we are combining our expertise," said Belov. "To manage existing populations and to boost Devil numbers, we will be using all the available tools, from GPS tracking to micro-chipping and the latest genetic sequencing technology."

 

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