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'Gentler devil' hope for marsupial threatened by facial cancer

Published on Sep 4, 2012 7:09 AM
This file picture taken on Jan 13, 2009 shows a healthy Tasmanian devil joey (Sarcophilus harrisii) displayed as part of an intensive conservation programme, because of the spread of an infectious facial tumour which gradually disfigures the animal's face to the point it is unable to eat, at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. -- PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - Could the Tasmanian devil, a ferocious marsupial threatened by facial tumours spread by biting, be saved by a change of character? Zoologists think there's a chance.

The wild population of devils has slumped by more than 90 per cent since the facial cancer first surfaced in 1996, and there is neither a cure nor a vaccine.

But a four-year investigation by a team led by Mr Rodrigo Hamede of the University of Tasmania found something intriguing: the less often an animal was bitten, the likelier it was to become infected.

The finding is "surprising and counter-intuitive", said Mr Hamede.

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