The Tasmanian Devil, a tiny marsupial known for its aggressive behavior and familiar to many of us in its animated form as the character “Taz” in Bugs Bunny cartoons, may not be headed for extinction quite so quickly as previously feared. Researchers in Tasmania have discovered a heretofore hidden colony of Tasmanian Devils, and testing has revealed that members of this colony have significant variations in their genetic markers as compared to other monitored populations.
The Save the Tasmanian Devil Society is very hopeful that researchers will be able to tap into this genetic diversity and help other colonies of Tasmanian Devils in Tasmania and abroad that have become susceptible to a number of diseases due to their lack of genetic variety. Up until now, scientists believed the extremely similar genetics of the majority of the Tasmanian Devil populations had rendered them virtual clones of one another with little ability to fight disease.
It has never been easy for Tasmanian Devils to survive in the wilds of Tasmania, but their genetic inability to fight disease is the most critical threat to their survival as a species. Until this recent discovery, researchers in Tasmania thought their only option to combat the diseases that are ravaging the Tasmanian Devil populations was to develop a vaccine and institute a program to trap Tasmanian Devils in the wild and immunize them one by one. Now, with a little luck and further research, the fight to save these creatures from extinction may be winnable.