Flag #12: Australia
Location: Toranga Zoo, Sydney, Australia
Name: Roop Gill
Snarling, growling and perpetually cranky, Taz – the Tasmanian Devil– emerges from a vortex created by his own spinning body. This animated image of the ferocious and rather ditzy Looney Tunes character has been inked into the memories of many people my age that grew up in bedrooms full of Bugs Bunny and Tweety stuffed toys – but, the pop-culture version of this feisty cartoon character has little in common with the real-life endangered species.
The Tasmanian devil is the largest carnivore marsupial and is found only in the wilds of the Australian island state of Tasmania. It looks like a small dog and feeds on snakes, birds, fish and insects. The Tassie devil has become an iconic symbol of Tasmania, but in the 1800s, famers tried to eradicate this species because it was believed to be killing livestock. In 1941, the government made them a protected species.
The seemingly little marsupial can eat up to 10 per cent of its body weight in one day. These ferocious creatures often fight each other, making it a commonality to see scars on their faces. The fighting, unfortunately, is also one of the ways in which a contagious cancer has affected 60 per cent of the state’s total population of Tasmanian devils (as per 2010 statistics). The devil face tumour disease (DFTD) started spreading in the late 1990s. This rare cancer is characterized by lumps around the animal’s mouth and head, making it difficult for them to eat. Eventually, they die of starvation. This disease has killed tens of thousands of Tasmanian devils and in 2008, the species was officially declared as endangered.
Efforts are being made to preserve this Australian icon. Breeding programs are in place for unaffected devils, but whether successful research will outrun the cancer is uncertain.
If you’ve bought a stuffed version of Taz, the Looney Tune, after 2006, your money has been funnelled into research for DFTD. If you are too old for toys, but want to help, check out the Save The Tasmanian Devil website to see how you can make a difference.read more >