Do wild animals get cancer?
AWild animals do indeed get cancer – though because cancer tends to be a disease of older age, and because life in the wild is often brutal and short, few animals will manage to live long enough for cancer to take hold.
There are, though, some notable exceptions. An infectious and lethal cancer known as devil facial tumour disease, which is spread by biting and was first identified in 1996, has devastated Tasmanian devil populations over the past two decades, causing their numbers to plummet by up to 80 per cent. Sea turtles suffer from a cancer called fibropapilloma, which forms obvious tumours on the flippers and around the mouth and eyes. The incidence of fibropapilloma has increased ten-fold over the past decade, and there are suspicions that pollution is to blame.
But it’s only a suspicion. In fact, the roles of environmental problems in the incidence of cancers among wildlife have barely been studied at all scientifically.
Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease is a transmissible cancer afflicting this marsupial carnivore.