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New breeding program hopes to save Tasmanian devil from extinction.

SYDNEY, July 14 Kyodo

(EDS: ACCOMPANIED BY PHOTO)

An ambitious new large-scale breeding program set on mainland Australia hopes to save the iconic Tasmanian devil from extinction, according to its coordinators.

The project, known as 'Devil's Ark,' will see around 350 hectares of natural bushland set aside in the state of New South Wales for what coordinators say may become one of the most ambitious endangered species breeding programs ever undertaken in the world.

The initiative is being led by the Australian Reptile Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, which already has one of the largest breeding programs for Tasmanian devils in the country.

The park's general manager Mary Rayner said it hopes to build a population of 900 healthy and genetically diverse Tasmanian devils by 2016 from both captive-born and wild-caught stock.

It expected that 48 devils will arrive at their new home in November.

Rayner said that since it is important that the carnivorous marsupials are able to maintain their wild traits, the project will enable the animals to roam free in 1-10 hectare enclosures.

The location for Devil's Ark was also selected due to its high elevation and natural landscape, which are similar to the Tasmanian devil's natural habitat.

The black-furred, dog-like animals, known for their pugnacious disposition and spine-chilling screech, are only found in the wild on the southern island of Tasmania, where the population is being ravaged by the debilitating and fatal Devil Facial Tumor Disease.

The Tasmanian state government's Save the Tasmanian Devil Program established an ''Insurance Population'' back in 2005, in which DFTD-free animals have been sent to mainland Australia to be bred in captivity.

As of January this year, the population of Tasmanian devils being bred in zoos and parks in mainland Australia had grown to 277.

However, with DFTD continuing to ravage populations in Tasmania, it is feared that the small scale breeding programs may not be enough to save the species from extinction.

In-breeding among devils in Tasmania is a major factor in the spread of the disease there.

''Due to a lack of genetic diversity among Tasmanian devils their bodies don't recognize the cells as foreign so the cells aren't rejected by the animal's immune system,'' the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program says on its website.

The contagious disease leaves the devils with large tumors and cancers around their mouth and head, and makes eating difficult. Transmitted through biting, affected animals die within months of the tumors appearing.

The Australian government upgraded the status of the species to endangered in May 2009 after it was estimated that the population had fallen by 70 percent of 1996 levels. There are now believed to be less than 50,000 devils left in Tasmania.

Tasmania's other famous carnivore, the thylacine or Tasmanian tiger, went extinct in the 1930s.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jul 19, 2010
Words:464
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