'Gentler devil' hope for threatened marsupial

Could the Tasmanian devil, a ferocious marsupial threatened by facial tumours spread by biting, be saved by a change of character?

Zoologists think there's a chance.

The wild population of devils has slumped by more than 90 percent since the facial cancer first surfaced in 1996, and there is neither a cure nor a vaccine.

But a four-year investigation by a team led by Rodrigo Hamede of the University of Tasmania found something intriguing: the less often an animal was bitten, the likelier it was to become infected.

The finding is "surprising and counter-intuitive," said Hamede.

"In most infectious diseases, there are so-called super-spreaders, a few individuals responsible for the transmission. But we found the more aggressive devils, rather than being super-spreaders, are super-receivers."

The reason, said Hamede: The more aggressive devils are likelier to bite than be bitten. As a result, they bite the mouth tumours of less aggressive devils and thus become infected.

The finding opens up a way of nurturing colonies of devils that favour less aggressive animals, he hoped.

"We need more detailed data on devil behaviour to define 'shy' or 'bold' types," said Hamede.

"We could use this information to develop a management strategy to reduce the spread of the disease by boosting natural selection of less aggressive, and therefore more resilient, devils."

Monitoring devils will give the key as to which animals are the most promising candidates.

The rat-like carnivores are reclusive but social creatures, which sleep by day and forage by night. They do not live in groups but encounter each other quite often, for mating or feeding around carcasses, and this is when they bite each other.

The disease is transmitted through cancer cells that break away from the tumour and infect the biter.

Devils once roamed Australia and at one point were considered by colonial farmers to be a pest. Since about 1600 they have been isolated to Tasmania, an island state south of the mainland.

They got their name for guttural cries that prompted early British settlers to call them "devils."

The study appears in the Journal of Animal Ecology, published by the British Ecological Society (BES).

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Billionaire finds wreck of WWII ship in Phl
    Billionaire finds wreck of WWII ship in Phl

    Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen says he has found the Japanese Navy’s biggest warship at the bottom of the sea in the Philippines, 70 years after US forces sank it. Allen posted a photo on Twitter on Tuesday of the World War II battleship Musashi’s rusty bow, which bore the Japanese empire’s Chrysanthemum seal. The American billionaire, who has also pursued space exploration, said his luxury yacht and exploration ship, the M/Y Octopus, found the Musashi one kilometer (1.6 miles) deep on the …

  • Miriam bucks house arrest for Enrile
    Miriam bucks house arrest for Enrile

    Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago believes granting Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile house arrest, while former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo remains under hospital detention, will violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution. “That’s already a violation of the equal protection of the law,” she said. …

  • 8 of 10 cities most at risk from natural disasters located in Phl – study
    8 of 10 cities most at risk from natural disasters located in Phl – study

    Eight of 10 world cities most exposed to natural hazards are in the Philippines and more than half of the 100 cities most exposed to earthquakes, storms and other disasters are in four Asian nations, according to a research. The study, published on Wednesday by risk analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft, analyzed the threat posed by storms, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, volcanoes and landslides in more than 1,300 cities. The study found that the 10 cities most at risk are Port Vila in …

  • World's oldest person wonders about secret to longevity too
    World's oldest person wonders about secret to longevity too

    TOKYO (AP) — The world's oldest person says 117 years doesn't seem like such a long time. …

  • US ambassador recovers from knife attack praised by N. Korea
    US ambassador recovers from knife attack praised by N. Korea

    The US ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was recovering from surgery Thursday after having his face and arm slashed by a knife-wielding activist in an attack applauded by North Korean state media. The United States condemned the "act of violence" which saw the ambassador rushed to hospital where his condition was described as stable after two-and-a-half hours of surgery that included 80 stitches to a deep gash on his right cheek. During the assault, Kim screamed a slogan in favour of …

  • UNA hits PNP selection process
    UNA hits PNP selection process

    The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) hit yesterday the apparent machinations in the selection of the new Philippine National Police (PNP) chief. Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, UNA interim president, said the administration and the ruling Liberal Party (LP) are perpetuating the bata-bata or patronage system in the selection process of the police chief. “They will start this by maneuvering the appointment of Gen. Garbo as PNP chief,” said Tiangco, referring to one of the top contenders for PNP …

  • Ohio mom, boyfriend guilty; child emailed teacher for help

    PORTSMOUTH, Ohio (AP) — A woman and her boyfriend pleaded guilty to raping her young children and were sentenced to prison on Wednesday, a year after one of her daughters emailed a teacher for help and said she and her siblings were being chained to their beds, deprived of food and sexually assaulted. …

  • New Moro rebel group emerges
    New Moro rebel group emerges

    A radical Muslim cleric trained in the Middle East and considered one of the leaders of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has broken away from the terror group to form his own band of jihadists who are now reportedly providing sanctuary to bomb expert Basit Usman and at least five foreign militants, the military said yesterday. Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla, citing reports from the field, said the Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM) was …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options