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Fight to save Tasmanian devil goes global

Saturday, July 06, 2013 - 01:58

July 7 - A pilot program placing 20 endangered Tasmanian devils in selected zoos around the world is about to be launched as part of an effort to save the species from extinction. A virulent facial cancer has decimated devil populations in the wild and it's hoped that by exposing the animals to a global audience, money can be raised to help pay for ongoing vaccine research. Elly Park has more.

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For fifteen years, the Tasmanian devil has been battling a devastating cancer that has brought the species to its knees. Environment Minister Brian Wightman., (SOUNDBITE)(English) BRIAN WIGHTMAN, TASMANIA ENVIRONMENT MINISTER SAYING: "This is a disease that has wiped out up to 95% of the population in the north east of Tasmania and 80% of the population right across the state." Called Devil Facial Tumor Disease, the cancer spreads through biting, a common social behavior among the marsupials. Once infected, the devils develop facial tumors which hamper their ability to eat. Most die from starvation. So to help the species' survival authorities have built an insurance population of more than 500 cancer-free devils in zoos and reserves around Australia. But now, with more breeding pairs than they need, 20 animals are being sent to zoos overseas, according to Dr. Howel Williams of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program. (SOUNDBITE)(English) DR HOWEL WILLIAMS, SAVE THE TASMANIAN DEVIL PROGRAM SAYING: "We have reached the target number that we set for that population and so we now have animals that are surplus to the needs of the insurance population that we still need to care for." The pilot project will place 20 devils in three zoos in New Zealand and two in the United States. It's hoped these ambassador devils will raise awareness of the animals' plight in the wild, and attract donations to fund vaccine research. (SOUNDBITE)(English) DR HOWEL WILLIAMS, SAVE THE TASMANIAN DEVIL PROGRAM SAYING: "It'll certainly help bring more resources to bear and there's also a lot of interest out there and a lot of expertise." Scientists in Tasmania are working on a vaccine but it may take years to develop. With numbers in the wild continuing to fall, a global insurance population may be the key to the species survival.

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Fight to save Tasmanian devil goes global

Saturday, July 06, 2013 - 01:58