The Tasmanian Devil is the second largest carnivorous marsupial in the world, second only to the Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, which though considered recently extinct (early 1900s), a very slight possibility of their existence still remains and there are thousands of unconfirmed but reliable sightings since the death of the ‘last’ Thylacine in 1936 cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, the Devil too faces extinction. In 1996, the first example of Devil Facial Tumour disease was found on a female devil on the east side of the island. Within 14 years, the 100% fatal cancer has killed more than 95% of the wild Tasmanian Devil population. Because of the Devils aggressive nature towards each other, they will often (particularly when competing for food around a carcass) nip or bite each other. The cancer cells are grafted on to the other devils jaw by the diseased devil during this behaviour, and because of thousands of years of developing on a small, confined island, the genetics are so similar, almost identical, like twins, that the immune system does not realise that the cancer cells are alien. The tumour grows without defiance, and kills the devil within less than a year. A natural geographical boundary of mountains and rough terrain still remains, however, which acts as a natural fence between the diseased Devils on the east side of the island and the disease free devils on the west side. However, the effectiveness of the geographical fence can not be the only thing that must be depended on to save the devils. Zoos and sanctuaries all over Tasmania and the Mainland have taken in a population of devils for captive breeding programs, to ensure a population fit to restart the species when reintroduced into the Tasmanian wilds. So far there are about 600 in captivity, but at least 1000 will be needed before any hope of a successful reintroduction can even be hoped for.
A little known fact about the Tasmanian Devil is that for it’s size it has the strongest jaws of any animal. When feeding together devils will consume the entire animal, sometimes only leaving a small bit of fur behind. In a Tasmanian Devil feeding scrum the gory sound of bones cracking becomes very regular. Also, despite what some might say, the Tasmanian Devil is very capable of hunting. It will more often scavenge, as it is far easier for it, but they do have an ability to hunt that is not given enought credit to, however slightly limited it is.