Monday, May 14, 2012

Wild at Heart: The Tasmanian Devil

Over the next two weeks, I will be bringing you previews of the work that will be exhibited at May 26th's "Wild at Heart: Keep Wildlife in the Wild," the endangered species benefit that Andrew Hosner and I are co-curating at Thinkspace. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Hope to see you there!

Ghostpatrol "Tasmanian Devil"

The Tasmanian Devil is a carnivorous marsupial found only on the Australian island state of Tasmania. Characterized by its ferocious appetite, pungent odor and extremely loud and disturbing screech, it has more than one characteristic in common with its Looney Tunes namesake. Though it is just the size of a small dog, it has been the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world since the extinction of the Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger by state-sanctioned hunting in 1936. In fact, the sudden and shocking extinction of the thylacine was likely what caused the Tasmanian government to reclassify the devils — formerly regarded as vicious pests — as a protected species in 1941. Until recently, the devil’s main threat was automobile strikes, as it is an opportunistic eater and roadkill is one of its favorite snacks. 

Since 1996, the Tasmanian devil population has been decimated by a mysterious contagious facial cancer that is transmitted parasitically through the devils’ habit of scrapping with each other over food. About 80% of the devil population is currently infected, which has led to a swift population crash, as the tumors gradually block the mouth and cause the devils to starve to death over the course of about a year. Efforts are underway to isolate the uninfected population and establish two “insurance” populations of healthy devils in captivity in anticipation of their total extinction in the wild by 2035.

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