Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
Have you ever heard of the Tasmanian devil? It’s actually nothing like the cartoon version—the real devil is a black animal with white markings that’s smaller than a cocker spaniel, and it’s in trouble.
The Tasmanian devil once lived on the continent of Australia but now survives in the wild only on the island state of Tasmania, just off Australia’s south coast. It’s the largest surviving marsupial carnivore in the world. A marsupial’s young develop in a pouch on their mother’s belly rather than in a uterus inside their mother’s body. Other than females with young, the devils are solitary, living in a burrow in the ground during the day and coming out at dusk to feed. Devils can hunt for prey but much of their diet consists of dead animals—carrion--such as road-killed wallabies and wombats.
A disease spreading across the island since 1996 has decimated the devil population. Scientists and wildlife managers are working hard in an effort to study and protect this unique species. The killer, called Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD), is unusual. It’s not caused by a virus or by bacteria. It’s a form of cancer that began with a single devil, and it can spread from one animal to another. Devils will bite each other as they fight over carrion, and the cancer cells on the face of one devil can infect another as they fight. Normally, an animal’s body can recognize cells that aren’t its own and destroy them. But DFTD cells protect themselves from being “discovered,” as if wearing an invisibility cloak. They invade their victims’ bodies and eventually kill them.
DFTD spread so fast and killed so many devils that the government and scientists feared that the Tasmanian devil would become extinct in the wild. They established disease-free colonies in captivity on the Australian mainland and on Tasmania and studied the cancer in laboratories. Now, the devil is making a comeback—there’s a vaccine that provides some protection to captive devils that have been released in the wild, and ecologists have found that some wild devils are able to fight the disease on their own. Meanwhile, another kind of facial tumor disease has appeared. It’s spreading more slowly, but biologists and the devils still have a lot to deal with. You can learn more from the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program .
This is Dorothy's book, Saving the Tasmanian Devil, as part of the Scientists in the Field Series. Read Vicki Cobb's review of this wonderful book.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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