Embarrassing to admit I’d heard of Tasmanian devils, but didn’t know exactly what they were. Rather than just look up the particulars on the Internet, I figured I’d stop in Tasmania and find out in person.
I was under the impression it was easy to find them in the wild. I misunderstood. What I thought would be the place for such an encounter turned out to be the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, down the road from the place that does the boat rides.
Turns out — duh — the devils are marsupials, a kind of animal that, like kangaroos, have pouches to protect their young. They used to roam Australia but became extinct on the mainland. They’re now in danger of disappearing altogether due to a vicious cancer that’s spread from one devil to the other by biting.
The park’s website says the No. 1 goal is to save the animals by isolating the healthy ones and breeding them. Tourism is second. I certainly hope so. It cost $30 to get in. I’d just missed feeding time, so I didn’t get a chance to see the critters interact with the keepers.
What I saw looked OK; but then I had nothing to compare it to. (My mate and driver Barry pointed out there were similar sanctuaries near Melbourne , but I said no — I wanted to see Tasmanian devils in Tasmania.) It was getting late, and this was my only shot — I was returning to Melbourne the next day.
The devils are said to be very shy; and I saw that firsthand when I tried like the devil to get some to look my way for a picture. Though they don’t go after humans, and would rather run away than fight, they will defend themselves if attacked. Though I was ooh-ing and ah-ing at their sweet little faces, I’m glad there was a fence between us.
Especially since I found out that unlike kangaroos, who eat grass, the devils feast on meat. And they’re not picky about presentation: Their jaws are powerful enough to bypass fur and crunch right through bone. Though they’ve been known to eat live stuff like chickens or feral cats if very hungry, they generally stick to sick or dead animals that are around their size. So they’re of some benefit to the environment.