When I made my trip to Tasmania, I had to learn more about the Tasmanian devils, naturally. The thing is, they are now an endangered species. They once used to roam Australia but now they are only confined to the island of Tasmania. They were not well liked for centuries. In the 1800’s many people falsely believed that Tasmanian devils were responsible for killing livestock so they took efforts into eradicating them. The effort was almost successful. It wasn’t until 1940 that the Australian government declared the devils a protected pieces. Thankfully, their numbers have grown since.
However, that’s not the only battle they have to face. Since the mid 90’s, thousands of Tasmanian devils have been dying due to a quickly spreading facial tumor disease. Although cancer is a common and general cause of death among the devils, it's the devil facial tumor that’s been the biggest cause of their recent demise. It’s a rare but contagious form of cancer. The cancer forms large lumps on the creature’s face especially around the month; it makes eating extremely hard. The devils starve to death.
There are countless of conversations around Tasmania that help keep and breed Tasmanian devils. There are a few communities of devils which have not been affected by the disease. There is a lot of effort in place to segregate the healthy groups as well as captive breeding programs that aim to prove the overall population number in Tasmania. There are certain sections of coastal Tasmania that have gates around rivers and forests that prevent devils from migrating over. This is, of course, to help keep the diseased devils away from the healthy ones because, unfortunately, the cancer is contagious.
What are Tasmanian devils like?
Personally, I think they look like odd but large rats. They most certainly don’t look like the Looney Tune character, which was a very big disappointment. But, so it goes. They are not large animals - they weigh on average between 10 and 25 lb. However, they do live up to their name. Tasmanian devils are ill-tempered, irritable, and all in all cantankerous. they will become enraged if faced with a predator. I’m sure it helps them survive that way as they are not the best runner. The term ‘devil’ came from early European settlers who observed their hot-tempered and lunatic behavior.
Tasmanian devils are scavengers. They will easy anything; they kind of have to because they are not good at hunting. They have short legs and can’t run quickly at all. Their body was not made for preying. This explains why they become cantankerous when faced with a threat - if they can’t run away they can certainly make a scene to scare off a predator.
While I visited the Tasmanian Devil Unzoo, I got to watch a feeding of three Tasmanian devils. It was actually quite comical. I don’t recall the age of the devils, but they were no babies. Yet, they acted like small human children. You have to feed them one piece of meat at a time because they play with their food. They played tug of war with each other and chased each other all over. It was fun to watch for a minute but I’m sure it gets old quickly for the keepers. The keepers can’t throw all the food at once because the devils will focus on the single piece being eaten by the other devil and ignore the rest. It’s completely irrelevant to them that there is more food. It’s a whole lot more important to take food away from another devil.
In the wild, the devils are solitary hunters. However, eating is a social event and small groups are typical. It’s a unique style of feeding, for sure. Once food has been found by a hunter, he or she makes a screeching noise that can travel several miles. The noise lets others in the radius know that food has been found. The larger the find the more noise is made to share with more devils. Additionally, the devils will eat everything of their find including the meat, skin, bones and hair. By no means are they picky eaters.
Did you know?
For their small size, the Tasmanian devils have the most powerful bite of any animal relative to its size. At the Unzoo, we were warned not to stick our hands over the railing. Although they wouldn’t jump over the railing, they can jump enough to grab phones and camera and god forbid get your hand: say goodbye to your hand. Their bit can generate a force of over 553 N. That’s enough for them to be able to bite through thick metal wires. As you can see, the devils keep living up to their name.
So what’s up with the Tasmanian Devil Unzoo?
I’ve briefly mentioned, I visited the Unzoo. The Tasmanian Devil Unzoo used to be an old school zoo. However, John Coe and Ray Mendez wanted to create a place that moved away from animal enclosures for the sake of human entertainment. Instead, the two wanted to emerge and educate people while also helping animals. They wanted the animals to live in a natural environment instead of cages and displays. In the Unzoo, humans are invited to be part of the environment. That’s why when you visit the Unzoo you can walk around a giant field among kangaroos. It’s also why there are little pods that peek inside the Tasmanian devil field. There are enclosures that help keep the animals safe, I don’t think anyone recommends walking among the Tasmanian devils, hence the pods. But, it’s still a whole lot more natural to peek into the field than to keep them in a cage.
At the Unzoo, you’re not meant to be entertained by the animals. You, as the visitor are meant to have a personal and even interactive experience with the animals if you choose to do so. I will admit, I was scared to touch the kangaroos. I don’t know if that’s an all around good idea. But I did get to watch them make faces at me. It was an interesting experience. Granted the animals are not in the wild. It makes sense for the Tasmanian devils - they are vulnerable to the wild environment. But the animals are immersed into a natural habitat. I appreciate that. The mission of the Unzoo is to teach people are the animals it hosts and it certainly did the trick for me. I now know a whole lot more about the Tasmanian devils and their survival struggle.
I am a freelance web designer who documents her travels with photos and words via Black Journal. Additionally, I work with small companies that want to re-brand their online businesses to create products that change lives of their customers all in the hopes of gaining more customers and retaining their current ones longer.