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Tasmanian Devils

Status: Endangered
Classification: Mammals
Scientific Name: Sarcophilus harrisii

The Tasmanian Devils are the largest surviving carnivorous marsupial of the world. They are identified by short thick tail, relatively large broad head and thickset squat build. They often have white markings on the chest and rump. Their fur is mostly black. They also don't possess a definite body size that varies greatly from one to another. They also vary on their diet and habitats. The size of the adult males is generally bigger than that of the adult females. Adult males generally weigh about 12 kg (26 lbs) and can stand about 30 cm (12 inches) high at the shoulder.

The Tasmanian Devils were once found on the mainland Australia. Now these Devils are only residing in Tasmania and hence their befitting name. Archaeological evidences indicate that before the European settlement in the continent, these devils resided on the mainland Australia. They love to reside along the coastal heath where there is open dry sclerophyllous or mixed sclerophyllous rain forests.



The devils are scavengers and feed on almost every available food. Blessed with powerful jaws and sharp teeth, they completely devour their prey's bones, meat and all. They are also fond of reptiles, amphibians, insects, sea squirts and carcasses of sheep as well as cattle. They are always famous to make rowdy communal feeding at carcasses. They generally eat almost everything that is of animal origin, from the mammals larger than itself to the carrions. They even consume almost every part of a kangaroo or a sheep, not even sparing the skull. With time they have gathered quite a daring reputation of sheep-killers.

The Tasmanian Devils generally breed in the month of the March giving birth to the young ones during April. Their gestation period is only 21 days. They are nocturnal scavengers by behavior. The whole day, they generally hide in a den or in a dense bush.

The Tasmanian Devils are now sadly on a path of extinction. The number of the Devils in 1996 in Tasmania was more than 200,000. Since then they were met with several diseases and natural calamities, as some reports say, they were reduced by almost 50% by 2007. The Tasmanian devils were caught by the contagious cancer that is known as Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD). This disease took away thousands of the Devils by producing large, often grotesque tumors around the face, head and mouth.

The disease of Devil Facial Tumor was reported by a photographer as early as 1996. Since then the population of the Devils in Tasmania dropped to somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000s. Two-thirds of the remaining population still seemed to be affected by this tumor. Researchers are still not able to find a way to cure this disease, which endangers the species day after day.

The original cause of the tumor is still baffling the researchers and it leads to death within few months of affecting the animal. Some researches denoted it as caused by unique infectious cells derived from the Tasmanian devils. These cells are transmitted through animal bites mainly during mating battles and scavenging for food. The immune system of the Tasmanian devils is not strong enough to recognise these cancerous cells and so can't attempt to kill them.

Let us wish scientists can crack this disease very soon and discover a control for it before this rare animal becomes once for all extinct.

 
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