Tasmanian Devil Cancer Cause Identified

A piece of positive news for the animal kingdom to close out 2009 and welcome 2010

Australian and American researchers believe they have uncovered the cause of a cancer that has decimated the world’s Tasmanian devils populations, pushing the marsupial towards extinction at a frighteningly quick rate. Scientists hope to use the information to formulate a cure in time to save the species.

Scientists initially believe the cancer was caused by a virus, but were unable to find one. New research has revealed the cancer is actually spreading more like a parasite – transmitted from animal to animal through bites inflicted during fights or other physical contact.

The tumor disease — which begins on the face and grows quickly to choke off the mouth before attacking other organs (if the animal doesn’t starve to death first) – has wiped out 60% of the world’s Tasmanian devil population since it emerged in 1996. Ecologists predict the disease – if no cure can be found – will wipe out the entire wild population within 35 years.

The discovery is a welcome ray of hope for the devil – a fierce dog-sized creature loved in Australia as a national symbol and adored around the world thanks to Loony Tunes’ Taz character — but the researchers warn a vaccine still remains very far away.