Image: Twitter/Michael Pryor
A number of Tasmanian devils released back into the wild have developed potentially deadly face tumours – but scientists say it's a minor hurdle to saving the endangered marsupial.
Three of 33 devils vaccinated against devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) and set free last year at Stony Head, in the state's north, were found to have small tumours on their lips and mouth, AAP reports.
Despite the tumours, Professor Greg Woods from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research told reporters that researchers have made “inroads” into understanding the condition.
"It's a formidable disease. There's lots of twists and turns trying to understand it but we're making a lot of inroads," he said.
"This minor hurdle is something we can overcome with more research."
It comes as conservationists found at least 44 young devils in the pouches of mothers at Stony Head.
Save the Tasmanian Devil Program manager David Pemberton this recent discovery was crucial to the longevity of the species.
"We were never sure if they would (breed), of course we were hopeful," he said.
"If they can ween them it's basically going to double that population."
The Stony Head release was part of several in the Wild Devil Recovery Project which aims to boost numbers of the endangered marsupial and develop a vaccine against the devastating effects of DFTS.
Another 33 devils were released in May at Wukalina and Mount William in Tasmania's northeast, with a network of virtual fences – triggered by motion sensors – successfully stopping any roadside fatalities of the marsupials.
"The captive-born devils, most are run over in the first two to three weeks," Dr Pemberton added.
"So we looked at the data and it became very obvious that the wild-born devils were faring better. The Wukalina release was just wild-born and the results are quite startling."
Greg Irons, Director of the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary north of Hobart, said he was thrilled to hear of released devils reproducing in the wild. "That's the result we're after," he said.
"We get excited when we breed a devil here, so to hear figures of doubling in numbers in some areas, it's an exceptional step forward."