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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.