Mapping the Disease | Disease FAQs
Tasmanian devils with large facial tumours were photographed in north-east Tasmania during 1996. A decade later, we know these characteristics are consistent with Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD).
DFTD is a fatal condition in Tasmanian devils, characterised by cancers around the mouth and head.
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.
As at February 2010, DFTD had been confirmed across more than 60% of the State. To date, no confirmed cases have been recorded west of the Murchison Highway.
DFTD is extremely unusual: it is one of only three recorded cancers that can spread like a contagious disease. It is spread between individuals through biting.
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.
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 95% (approximate, due to low sample size in recent years), with no evidence to date of either of the decline stopping or the prevalence of the disease decreasing.
Status of the Tasmanian devil
The Tasmanian devil has been listed as Endangered by the Federal and State governments, as well as the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). The Tasmanian devil is now wholly protected. Find out more...