I recently spent two weeks travelling around the stunning island of Tasmania. If you haven’t been you must! Highlights for me are definitely the seaside town of Stanley, the fruit farm cafes, the lavender farm outside Launceston, Cradle Mountain, Bruny Island, Hobart and let’s just say the whole place really.
One of the things on my to do list other than canyoning and ziplining (I love adrenaline), I couldn’t wait to see the wildlife. I saw echidnas cross highways, pademelons bound out of bushes, wombats and their babies feeding in the open. As I live in suburban, south east Queensland this is not a usual sight for me. It was great to see Aussie animals in the open and wild just roaming around. I spotted seals and dolphins at Bruny Island and watched fairy penguins return from the ocean to their burrows at night time in Bicheno. But I had to go to Platypus House to see this elusive animal.
High on my list though was seeing the Tasmanian Devil. Why? Well, other than it having Tasmania in its name, the devil is a main character in a children’s book manuscript I’ve been working on. I’ve done a lot of research online and wanted to see it in person.
I visited Devils@Cradle to learn about this mysterious creature for a night-time feeding session. Getting there at twilight, I was able to watch the devils run around. They made tracks around their pen, similar to dog paths in your backyard. I also heard their piercing devil cry. I saw two devils tackle each other, which made me jump with fright.
When it became dark, I heard about the plight of the devils as an endangered species. The main issue is devils are dying from Devil Facial Tumour Disease, an aggressive cancer that has spread rapidly throughout the population and drastically killed off many of them. As devils are now only found in Tasmania, the animals all have a close genetic pool and don’t have a strong resistance or immune system to fight the disease. To combat this, sanctuaries like Devils@Cradle are sending devils to other sanctuaries for breeding to expand the genetic pool of the species.
I watched the devils devour and crunch through bone and meat of a carcass. I even got to see the remains of some Tassie Devil faeces (poo!), which had animal fur in it.
Interestingly, Tasmanian Devils are solitary creatures in the wild, however in captivity they don’t mind sharing a pen with each other. Also, devils will not hurt humans. I think they’ve been feared for too long because of its piercing scream, which is how it got its name. Listen to a recording of a devil scream. It really does sound like that!
They prefer to scavenge their food. Devils are fast movers. One that was tracked had travelled one-third of Tasmania in a couple of weeks.
What I learned? We need to protect this Australian species and save it from the same ill fate as the once feared Tasmanian Tiger, which was hunted to extinction by early settlers.
Australian literature can play its part in spreading the word literally for the plight of this precious animal and teach our children about how to save the Tasmanian Devil.
Here are some great children’s books featuring Tasmanian Devils. Even if you can’t find these, there are ample fiction and non-fiction books about this creature that you can buy at a bookstore or borrow from your local library.
A Devilish Tale, by Alice Hansen features Nevil the devil as he searches for his family in the Tasmanian wilderness. Sales from the book raise money for the Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease fund.
Little Devils, story by Rebecca Johnson and photographs by Steve Parish. Steve Parish books are favourites with both children and adults.
Taz, the Looney Tunes character.
Rare Earth: Saving Tasmanian Devils by Dr Mark Norman.
Tasmanian Devils: Life Cycles of Australian Animals by Greg Pyers. I have used these books in my classroom to help children learn about Australian animals.
Honey Bee Books also recommends these titles featuring Tasmanian Devils.