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Aussie nature-boffins have a new scheme to prevent the extinction of the Tasmanian Devil by the simple means of a great big fence.

The proposed barrier would aim to separate infected from healthy animals and stop the spread of the rampant face cancer which is destroying the species, reports the Beeb. The beleaguered beastie, which is the world's largest marsupial carnivore and a crucial part of Tasmania's ecosystem, faces possible extinction within 20 years.

Various strategies have been employed to combat the cancer, which spreads easily and progresses rapidly, aided by the lack of genetic diversity among the animals which are found only in Tasmania. There was some excitement last year when a captured Devil called Cedric was found to have a strong natural resistance to the cancer, which is directly passed from one animal to another, usually via bites to the head in fights. However, hopes were dashed when Cedric developed tumours, although researchers at the University of Tasmania say they have "learned a lot" from him.

A fence may help to stop the spread of the disease, although the idea is fraught with problems - wombats are likely to dig under it, for a start. “Producing a fence to fence out a disease is a difficult technical issue," Hamish McCallum, senior scientist in charge of the Devil Facial Tumor Disease program, told Earthweek.com. "It isn't just a matter of slinging up something like a rabbit-proof fence.”

Meanwhile, a captive breeding programme continues under the Save the Devil initiative, but funding is paltry. ®

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