No one knows the cause of the disease, though some experts have suggested flame retardants found in some devils may make them more susceptible to cancer.
Ray Nias heads WWF-Australia's conservation program.
He said Tasmanian wildlife would suffer if the devil disappeared, because it has prevented alien predators—such as foxes and feral cats—from exploding in number.
(Related: "Foxes Invade Tasmania, Create 'Environmental Emergency'" [August 22, 2006].)
"Tasmania is an ark for Australia," Nias said. "Its mammal fauna is still largely intact.
"If the devils go, and the foxes and cats increase, it would be all over for a good dozen or more species of mammals—many of which are unique to Tasmania not to mention lizards and ground-dwelling birds."
Conservationists are pinning their hopes on a small wild population of the marsupials in Tasmania's northwest, where the disease has yet to take hold.
"There remains a suggestion that perhaps that population has some immunity," the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program's Brennan said.
Already, some healthy devils have been captured and sent to facilities on mainland Australia to form the nucleus of a captive-breeding population.
"We're hoping that this [endangered listing] will lead to wider recognition of just how serious the threat remains and bring further assistance in," Brennan said.
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