Saving the Tasmanian Devil: Battling Extinction and Disease

February 12, 2023 in animal welfare, environment

Article summary and Key takeaways: The Tasmanian devil population is in danger of extinction due to various factors. The current population is estimated to be around 10,000, a significant decline from the estimated 150,000 in the 1990s. The main threats to their survival include the outbreak of Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease (DFTD), habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, and human activities such as road construction and the introduction of invasive species. DFTD is a contagious cancer that spreads rapidly among devils, leading to death. Efforts to control the disease have focused on isolation and quarantine, but eradication is challenging. Habitat loss and fragmentation disrupt feeding and breeding patterns, while climate change affects food sources and habitats. Human activities like road construction and urban development increase mortality rates and predation. Conservation efforts involve research, habitat restoration, disease management, and public outreach. Success stories include the establishment of disease-free populations in sanctuaries. However, ongoing challenges continue to threaten the survival of Tasmanian devils. Collective action, collaboration, and awareness are crucial for their conservation.


The Tasmanian devil, famously known for its ferocious temperament and distinct appearance, is in danger of extinction. Once abundant throughout the Australian island state of Tasmania, the population of these unique creatures has experienced a rapid decline in recent years. This article explores the reasons behind the endangered status of Tasmanian devils and the efforts being made to conserve this iconic species.


The current population of Tasmanian devils is estimated to be around 10,000 individuals, which is a fraction of what it once was. Over the years, the species has experienced a significant decline due to various factors. In the 1990s, the population was estimated to be approximately 150,000, highlighting the alarming rate at which their numbers have decreased.


The decline in Tasmanian devil population can be attributed to several key factors. One of the most devastating threats has been the outbreak of Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease (DFTD), a contagious cancer that has wreaked havoc on the species.

Habitat loss and fragmentation have also played a significant role in the decline of Tasmanian devils. As human activities expand, their natural habitats are being destroyed or divided into smaller patches, making it difficult for the devils to find suitable areas for feeding and breeding.

The impact of climate change cannot be ignored either. Rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and other climate-related factors have further added to the challenges faced by the Tasmanian devil population.

Lastly, human activities such as road construction, urban development, and the introduction of invasive species have further threatened the survival of Tasmanian devils.


DFTD is a devastating disease that affects Tasmanian devils and has had a catastrophic impact on their population. This contagious cancer manifests as large tumors on the devil’s face, mouth, and neck, ultimately leading to death due to starvation or complications from the tumors.

The disease is transmitted through direct contact with affected individuals during aggressive behaviors, such as biting and mating. As Tasmanian devils are known for their fierce nature, the disease spreads rapidly within populations.

Efforts to control and manage DFTD have focused on isolation and quarantine of diseased individuals, as well as the development of a vaccine. However, the complex nature of the disease and the rapid spread among the devil population have made eradication a daunting task.


Tasmanian devils rely on a diverse range of habitats, including forests, grasslands, and coastal regions. However, these habitats have been subject to extensive human activities such as deforestation, agriculture, and urbanization.

The loss and fragmentation of their habitats have not only reduced the availability of suitable areas for the devils but have also disrupted their feeding and breeding patterns. Fragmented habitats make it difficult for devils to find mates and establish stable populations, further exacerbating the decline of the species.

Conservation efforts to address habitat loss and fragmentation have focused on establishing protected areas, restoring degraded habitats, and implementing land-use planning strategies that prioritize the preservation of Tasmanian devil habitats.


Climate change poses a significant threat to Tasmanian devils. The rising temperatures and changing weather patterns have led to disruptions in their food sources and altered the availability of suitable habitats.

One specific climate-related threat faced by Tasmanian devils is the impact on their prey species. As climate change alters ecosystems, it affects the abundance and distribution of prey animals, making it increasingly challenging for devils to find enough food to sustain themselves.

Efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change on Tasmanian devils include the promotion of sustainable practices, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and raising awareness about the importance of conservation and adaptation in the face of a changing climate.


Human activities have significantly contributed to the endangerment of Tasmanian devils. The expansion of roads, urban development, and the introduction of invasive species have all had detrimental effects on their survival.

Road construction and urban development have resulted in increased mortality rates for Tasmanian devils due to vehicle collisions and habitat destruction. Additionally, the introduction of invasive species, such as feral cats and foxes, has led to increased predation on devils.

Efforts to address the impact of human activities on Tasmanian devils include raising awareness about responsible development practices, implementing measures to control invasive species, and promoting coexistence between humans and wildlife.


Multiple organizations and government agencies are actively involved in conservation initiatives for Tasmanian devils. These efforts encompass a range of strategies, including research, habitat restoration, disease management, and public outreach.

Researchers are working tirelessly to understand the biology, behavior, and ecological needs of Tasmanian devils, enabling conservationists to develop effective strategies for their preservation.

Government agencies have established protected areas and implemented policies to safeguard devil habitats. Conservation organizations play a crucial role in raising funds and awareness, supporting research projects, and advocating for the protection of Tasmanian devils.

Despite the challenges, there have been success stories in Tasmanian devil conservation. The establishment of disease-free populations in sanctuaries and the implementation of quarantine measures have helped preserve some devil populations.

However, ongoing challenges such as the spread of DFTD, habitat loss, and the impacts of climate change continue to pose significant threats to the survival of Tasmanian devils.


The Tasmanian devil’s endangered status reflects the urgent need for continued conservation efforts. The devastating effects of Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease, habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, and human activities have all contributed to their decline.

Efforts to control DFTD, conserve habitats, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and address human-induced threats are crucial in ensuring the survival of this iconic species.

The future of Tasmanian devils relies on collective action, collaboration between stakeholders, and the commitment of individuals to raise awareness and support conservation initiatives. Only through these efforts can we secure a brighter future for the Tasmanian devil and prevent its extinction.

Question 1:
Answer: Tasmanian devils are being killed by a contagious cancer called Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD).

Question 2:
Answer: The population of Tasmanian devils has significantly declined, and there are currently around 25,000 individuals left in the wild.

Question 3:
Answer: The main threat endangering Tasmanian devils is Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD), which is a transmissible cancer.

Question 4:
Answer: Tasmanian devils are not endangered because of humans directly, but human activities such as habitat destruction and road accidents can indirectly impact their population.


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About the author 

Jamie Willson

Hey there, I'm Jamie! As a Climate Scientist from MIT, I've spent years unraveling the complexities of global warming. My work ranges from conducting research on climate impacts to advising on environmental policies. I'm passionate about making the science of climate change accessible and actionable. Join me as we explore practical solutions to one of the biggest challenges facing our planet.