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Endangered Tasmanian Devils Return To the Wild in Test of New Cancer Vaccine

Oct 01, 2015 02:48 PM EDT
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Tasmanian devils have been close to extinction several times over the 10 years due to a rare kind of cancer first discovered in 1996. Now, researchers have increased their efforts to save the aggressive marsupials. After being treated with a new vaccine, 20 captive-bred Tasmanian devils were returned to the wild in hopes that their population and diversity will rebound.

The communicable cancer, known as devil facial tumor disease (DFTD), causes tumors to form in and around the mouth, making it difficult for them to eat and ultimately lead leading to death from starvation. It's spread through bites, sharing food or eating infected carcasses. As a result, Tasmanian devil populations declined by more than 60 percent in the last 10 years, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "red list" of endangered species.

To stop it from wiping out the entire species, conservationists captured hundreds of disease-free wild devils. They were placed in captive-breeding programs and kept far from their infected relatives. And recently, 20 immunized devils – 11 males and 9 females – were released back into the wild within northern Tasmania's Narawntapu National Park.

"This field trial is a tangible step in the journey to bring the devil back into the Tasmanian wild," Bob Wiese, chief life sciences officer for San Diego Zoo Global, said in a news release. "The next milestone will be to see them start breeding in the wild and thus further ensuring their chances of survival into the future."

The release was carried out by members of the Wild Devil Recovery Project. The recently-released devils will be able to interact with other non-vaccinated devils living in the park but they will be monitored closely in order to determine the vaccine's effectiveness.

Watch the Tasmanian devils take their first steps into the wild. 

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Samantha on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13

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