Devil Facial Tumour Disease As A Cause Of Mainland Extinction

Devil Facial Tumour Disease as a Cause of Mainland Extinction

Traditionally, the dingo (Canis lupus dingo) has been considered the primary cause of extinction of the Tasmanian devil on mainland Australia.


Photo: Chris Rehberg. Alpine Dingo named Thai - Canis lupus dingo.

In his chapter "In Search of Rare Carnivorous Marsupials: An Examination of the Evidence for Their Survival", featured in the 2007 book "Elementum Bestia", this author asked:

"... who is to say DFTD did not play a major role in the demise of the species on mainland Australia with in fact, the remaining mainland populations being the survivors? According to Holtcamp (2007), "biologists still cannot even detect DFTD before tumors appear"; therefore it cannot be known whether DFTD exists on mainland Australia unless a captive devil succumbs to it. Certainly no-one has found tumours on wild mainland devils that they donít believe exist." (1)

Can DFTD Cross Water Barriers?

The above theory that DFTD might have contributed to the extinction (or near-extinction) of devils on the mainland implies that the disease arrived at Tasmania from the mainland. Can DFTD cross water barriers?

DFTD on Badger Island, Furneax Group, Bass Strait

A population of Tasmanian devils exists on Badger Island in the Furneax Group in Bass Strait - between Tasmania and Victoria. The species was introduced to the island about 1996 and although not pathologically confirmed, one devil with typical DFTD related tumours was sighted (1).

Although not certain, it seems likely that DFTD exists on Badger Island. Given the disease was first discovered in the same year the species came to reside there, there is no way of being certain whether the disease arrived with the devils or independently.

Therefore, at this stage we do not know whether DFTD can naturally cross water barriers without being hosted by a devil which makes the journey.

  1. Information on this page regarding Badger Island devils comes from Application Form: Nomination for Listing or Delisting of a Taxon of Flora or Fauna (Threatened Species Protection Act 1995) as submitted by Nick McKim for recommending the Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) be listed as Vulnerable