Mapping the Disease | Disease FAQs | Disease Diagnostics
Tasmanian devils with large facial tumours were photographed in North East Tasmania during 1996. We now know these characteristics are consistent with Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD).
DFTD is a fatal condition in Tasmanian devils, characterised by cancers around the head and neck.
DFTD appears to be a new disease that is restricted to Tasmanian devils. No affected animals were detected among the 2000-plus devils trapped by six biologists between 1964 and 1995.
DFTD is extremely unusual: it is one of only four known naturally occurring transmissible cancers. It is transmitted like a contagious disease between individuals through biting and other close contact.
Animals usually die within a few months of the cancer becoming visible. Tasmanian devils with facial tumours find it difficult to eat. Death results from starvation and the breakdown of body functions as a result of the cancer.
In diseased areas, nearly all sexually mature Tasmanian devils (older than two years of age) become infected and succumb to the disease. Juveniles as young as one year old can also be infected. This is resulting in populations with a very young age-structure in which females have only one breeding event, whereas they would normally have three.
Populations in which DFTD has been observed for several years have declined by up to 97% (approximate, due to low sample size in recent years). There is no evidence to date of the decline in devils stopping or the prevalence of the disease decreasing. In spite of this, devils are persisting in the landscape due to precocial breeding and the capacity of females to wean their young before succumbing to the disease.