Tasmanian Devils are not exactly poster critters when it comes to cute Australian marsupials. Their bark may be worse than their bite, but that fearsome set of jaws is enough to dissuade you from finding out. Despite their less than warm and friendly media personalities, as one of Australia’s unique native animals and iconic symbols of Tasmania, we should be concerned that, like their distant cousins the Tasmanian Tigers, they’re on the road to extinction.
Continued existence is uncertain for these animals for a number of reasons. For the last ten years or so their numbers have been decimated by a rare infectious and deadly facial cancer. As well, they too often end up as road kill, predisposed as they are to scavenge for the carcasses of other animals on Tasmania’s heavily tourist populated roads. Their foraging habits have always made them prey to being hit by traffic of course, but the added inroads of the cancer have meant their numbers are now dwindling alarmingly.
For an as yet unknown reason, those animals that inhabit the north-west of Tasmania have proved more resistant to the disease than their counterparts in other regions. Now however these hardier devils look like being impacted by the newly approved mine proposed for the Tarkine region in the north west. With this combination of adversities, the odds are really stacked against them.
This is unlikely to be a populist cause, and unless you’re a nature conservationist or environmentalist, it may seem just one more of life’s endless unsolvable problems. Often pictured in mid-screech, looking formidably fierce, or with their faces sadly eaten away by tumours, they possibly don’t have a lot of mass appeal, which doesn’t help their cause.
Other than seeing them dead by the side of the road and the stuffed version in souvenir shops across the island, we didn’t encounter them on our recent trip to Tasmania until the day we left Cradle Mountain and visitedDevils@Cradle.
Devils@Cradle is a world class animal sanctuary located adjacent to the World Heritage area of the National Park and is an amazing place. In a largely natural environment of eucalypts and flora unique to the region, the sanctuary provides a safe habitat for the devils, as well as other native marsupials, including quolls, wallabies and wombats.
When we called in, we were the only visitors and therefore got a personalised tour of the facility which housed a number of devils of all ages including babies. These animals are part of what’s called the Captive Breeding Program administered in conjunction with the Tasmanian Government’s “Save the Tasmanian Devil Program”, an initiative to help sustain genetic diversity in Australia’s native animal populations.
The program also conducts orphan rehabilitation through taking in abandoned babies and hand rearing them to maturity, either to stay in the sanctuary or be released back into the wild. The wildlife carers are exactly that, caring and expert in their knowledge of and skills with these unique creatures.
While there, we were amazed to see the level of rapport between our tour guide and the animals, which allowed her to pick them up and cradle them like kittens. Far from being the ferocious miniature man-eaters they can appear, we learned they only seem that way because of their huge jaws, fearsome looking teeth and the spine chilling cry they emit when afraid or threatened.
It would be a tragedy to see the devils go the way of the tigers, which are now only a distant and mythologised remnant of our history. Apart from the fact that these animals seem to have gotten an especially raw deal over recent years, as a part of Australia’s world renowned and unique native fauna, what’s left of them must be preserved. Let’s not allow them to be crushed for ever under the advancing tread of so-called progress.
If you want to be a devil’s advocate, check out “Save the Tasmanian Devil” for ways of supporting them.