An epidemic of a contagious facial cancer has been spreading though — and destroying — the Tasmanian devil population.
Since 1996, 84 per cent of the "fierce-looking, doglike marsupial" population has been wiped out by the disease that spreads through the animals' bite. Tumours quickly develop on the devils' faces or inside their mouths and can cause death within six months.
To prevent the extinction of the species, Australian scientists and wildlife experts relocated 15 of the still-healthy devils to Maria Island — or "Noah's Ark" — an 12-mile long national park off Tasmania's coast in November.
"It's part of making sure the Tasmanian devil never goes the way of the Tasmanian tiger," Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said.
"The hope is that the devils will breed and form a healthy colony free from the debilitating and deadly ailment. If the disease wipes out the general population on the mainland, the island will act as a lifeboat for the species, allowing their reintroduction to Tasmania at a later date," TIME NewsFeed reports.
"We have very little time to save the species," said Katherine Belov, a biologist at the University of Sydney.
So far, so good.
“All indications are that they’re doing very well,” Phil Wise, the government biologist leading the scheme, told the New York Times.
There are currently another 500 other Tasmanian devils protected in zoos and sanctuaries.