A healthy group of Tasmanian devils has been discovered in Australia, giving new hope for the survival of the endangered species.
They were found by scientists on a conservation expedition in south-west Tasmania.
The marsupials’ numbers have been slashed because of the spread of an infectious facial cancer.
More than 80% of devils across Tasmania have been lost to the disease, according to local media.
It is passed between them when they fight or mate.
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The search expedition was funded by a crowdfunding campaign, and is a collaboration between the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, the University of Sydney Faculty of Science, University of Sydney and Toledo Zoo from Ohio in the US.
Their scientists spent eight days exploring the wilderness across Wreck Bay and Nye Bay, looking for devils to trap so they could run tests.
After taking tissue samples, they will now study the genetics of the healthy devils to compare them to the infected populations.
“The 14 individual devils trapped were in good condition,” said Dr Sam Fox, the team’s leader and the adjunct biologist to Toledo Zoo.
“And more importantly, there were no signs of disease. Overall the results show that the population in this area of the south-west coast is small and healthy.”
Save the Tasmanian Devil Program manager Dr David Pemberton told Australia’s ABC news network that the find was “very significant”.
“Finding devils with fresh genetic diversity gives us opportunities,” he said.
The Tasmanian Devil is the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, native only to the island state of Tasmania, 240km (150 miles) south of the mainland. The growl-like scream made by the animals helped them earn their devil nickname.