Thursday, 8 November 2007

Not With A Bang But A Whimper

I KNOW that you probably don't care. After all, Tasmania is a very long way away. What goes on there doesn't affect you, right?

So I'm about to mention the plight of the Tasmanian devil. Ultimately, it's not a species we usually come across, and it is not one of those media-endorsed cuties either. If the lions were dying out there would be uproar. You don't get YouTube videos of Tasmanian devils sneezing*, either.

But the Tasmanian devil is dying out. In the early 1990s scientists began to notice individuals with grotesque facial tumours, and since then animal numbers have dropped severely, from an estimated 140,000 in 1990 to 80,000 in 2006. The cancer has been found in populations in three of the four poles of the island. In the most recent edition of New Scientist magazine, an article reports that the disease has now been found in the devil population of Narawntapu National Park, previously thought immune. But of course, nobody cares about Tasmanian devils, so the article is extremely short and difficult to find.

Yet this is important. Tasmanian devils are the largest carnivorous marsupials in the world, and are destined to become the second symbol of Tasmania to become extinct within the past century. The first, the thylacine (or Tasmanian tiger), was officially declared extinct by the IUCN in 1986. However the last recorded living Tassie tiger died in Hobart Zoo in 1936, just 59 days after official protection by the government was introduced. It had enjoyed thousands of years of existence on both mainland Australia and Tasmania, but died with a whimper on public display. There have been unconfirmed sightings since, including one last year, but ultimately, by and large and almost definitely, it is gone.

Lets hope the devil doesn't go the same way.

* Click here if confused

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