Saturday, November 10, 2007

Satan's flesh eaters

Tintarella and I were lucky enough to visit a research facility for Tasmanian Devils, and it was there that I took these photographs.

Satan's Flesh Eaters was the name that the European invaders first gave to the Devils. They were perceived as a threat to introduced livestock, and so a bounty was put on them. Keep in mind that, when you are decimating a population, not only are you removing individual creatures, you are also substantially reducing the gene pool of the species. We shall shortly see how bloody appalling that is.

Tasmanian Devils were finally protected in 1941, after the last Tasmanian Tiger had died.

But our Devils are not safe. In 1995 a previously unknown disease appeared. It is called Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). It is 100% fatal. In ten years, the Devil numbers have halved.

Because the Devil population is genetically limited (only cheetahs are more genetically similar to one other) it is assumed that any Devil who contracts the disease will die. In a genetically varied population, some instances of disease resistance might be expected. And that might have led to a vaccination. Too bad.

DFTD is one of only three communicable cancers that are known. Why did it spring into life in 1995? Was it a mutation? And if so, what caused the mutation?

Okay. Here's the other thing. 1994 saw the beginning of a systematic scheme of laying a poison called 1080 (ten eighty). 1080 is a fox poison. Unfortunately, native Australian animals don't read labels. Foxes are carnivores. Devils are carnivores. There are some who believe that the poison contributed to the factors which produced DFTD. It certainly killed some Devils.

Do you want to hear the kicker? There aren't any foxes in Tasmania. But there is a lot of government money to be had for fox extermination. Last time the Tasmanian government considered ceasing grants for fox research / poisoning, a dead fox turned up. Good timing, Mr Reynard.

Here is a cute picture of two Devil pups just out of the den.

(Wiki has a good article on Devils, but before you go there please be aware that there is a distressing photo of a Devil with DFTD.)


Sara Sue said...

They are every bit as adorable as wombats! I can't go to the wiki article ... I can't bear to see the tumors. I hope whomever dreamed up the fox poisoning scheme gets a similar tumor in their arse!

Got any pics of these cute little devil's poo??

Malach the Merciless said...

These things rock. I love the noises they make.

Phoebe Fay said...

I love the expression on that one in the top picture. It looks like it's inviting you to come along and have a nice chat over a cup of tea.

That's terrible news about the DFTD. Humans can be so stupid.

Cissy Strutt said...

sara sue; No Devil scat photos I'm sorry to say. I still think your scheme to make jewellery out of dung is inspired. The company could be called Poo-ells. (hee hee). I have some very pretty elephant dung paper from Africa.

malach: The noise is amazing, and one of the reasons the European invaders were afraid of the Devils.

phoebe: Those Devils are not tame, but they are accustomed to humans. I did touch one pup called Charlotte. She had unbelievably soft & thick fur. I had a real inner resistance to touching her - not because I didn't want to but because she was a wild animal. But then I couldn't resist.

Here is Charlotte.

Cissy Strutt said...

Oh I can't resist. Here she is again.

here today, gone tomorrow said...

If animals ever got a clue about what people are doing to them and rose up against us, I wouldn't blame them one bit. Like sara sue, I can't go look at wikipedia. But I sure would like to touch noses with Charlotte!

youcantryreachingme said...

Aren't they gorgeous? I haven't had the pleasure yet of patting one, but many of Australia's mammals have incredibly soft fur, so it doesn't surprise me if the devil does too.

You didn't mention which facility you visited.



Cissy Strutt said...

Hi Chris thanks for dropping by. We went to Devils@Cradle, which was set up about 18 months ago, I believe.

Colonel Colonel said...

Those are unbelievably cute too!

Our President points out that "DDT" (he means DFTD) is obviously all the foxes fault, but "at least they don't have mosquitoes anymore now".

anaglyph said...

I want one as a pet. But would having two Satan's Flesh Eaters be greedy?

Cissy Strutt said...

hereT: It's interesting that a lot of horror movies are based on the idea of Nature 'retaliating'. I think we know we deserve it.

colonel: Words fail me. (And yer Prez). (Have I said "roll on November 24th" lately?)

anaglyph: I can see it now - "Glitch vs The Devil: The Rippening". I think the Spawn would have more luck against Satan Himself.

here today, gone tomorrow said...

I am compelled to come back and look and look again; the first one where the devil, mid stride, gazes up into your eyes, is particularly marvelous.

(P.S. I'm "Lotus Lynn" on Flickr; that's where I first saw these.)

Cissy Strutt said...

hereT: Ahha! I couldn't figure out how to get a message to Lotus Lynn. I'd missed "her" comment by many days as I don't really expect comments there so I don't check. Ah all the masks & names we have here on the web - and in our real lives too, I would venture.

here today, gone tomorrow said...

That's why I wanted to let you know. ..and you raise an interesting point.