European settlers in the 19th century heard the Tasmanian Devil's signature shrieks and saddled the animal with its unsympathetic name. Bounty hunters captured and poisoned the devils, natural scavengers, into near-extinction in the erroneous belief that they were attacking livestock.
Today the seldom seen marsupial is fighting to survive a fatal disease decimating its species. The affliction is straight out of a sci-fi film: Tumours sprout around the devil's mouth, quickly morphing into bulbous red pustules that eventually take over the animal's entire face, leaving it unable to eat or drink.
The disease had all the characteristics of a virus. But last year geneticists made a sobering discovery: Devil facial tumour disease, or DFTD, was no virus but a highly infectious cancer — one of only three communicable cancers known to medicine. That breakthrough piqued the interest of scientists.
In other news, philanthropist Jan Cameron has opened an enclosed sanctuary for Tasmanian devils on Tasmania's East Coast.
Ms Cameron has donated the 24ha site at Flacks Rd, near Coles Bay. The area was home to a big devil population before an outbreak of devil facial tumour disease.
Another enclosed area near Bridport, donated by Scott Bell, has also been officially opened.
Ms Cameron and Dr Bell donated the land to the Save the Tasmanian Devil program so the devils could roam free in enclosed areas that protect them from getting in contact with diseased devils.