Sunday 7th February 2016
We were collected from the campsite around 8.30 p.m. as the light was beginning to fade, and the coach driver introduced himself and told us a little about the wildlife on the mountain. By the time we had collected a few more people from their accommodation, it was beginning to get dark and we drove very slowly along the road to the Ranger station with all eyes looking out of the windows for movement. We saw quite a few wallabies and pademelons, a couple of wombats and a possum’s tail as it disappeared behind a tree, before we pulled in to Devils@Cradle, a Tasmanian Devil sanctuary for the evening feeding tour.
Tasmanian devils are an endangered species. They are endemic to Tasmania and are the largest living carnivorous marsupial, the size of a small dog. The males have large heads and very powerful jaws, able to bite through bone. It is thought they got the name ‘devil’ because of the ferocious sound they make and the way they look when making it.
They got their name from the ferocious sounds they make and the way they look.
We could hear the devils crunching their way through this huge bone.
They didn’t look at all friendly, and I was glad they were inside a compound and we were outside!
The devil population is falling rapidly as a result of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). This disease is characterised by the development of ulcerated tumours around the jaws and head of the animal. It is fatal and the animal usually starves to death in 3-5 months. It is transmissible between individuals, thought to be through aggressive interactions at feeding sites. The sanctuary runs a breeding programme which has successfully released healthy devils back into the wild in places where there is no DFTD.
It was very interesting to see these animals and to hear about their feeding and mating habits. They are marsupials and the female therefore has a pouch. Although she gives birth to 20-30 live young after a three-week gestation, most do not survive as she has just four nipples. She carries up to four babies in her pouch for around 3 months, and they become independent at 9 months.
We saw three compounds with a group of devils in each, and then went on to see some Eastern and Spotted-tail Quolls for which they also have a captive breeding programme.
Feeding time over, we went back to the coach and resumed our slow driving along the road looking out for animals. By now it was pitch dark, and so we had spotlights on the side of the coach to help pick out the animals. I thought this might frighten them off, but they seemed to just stand and look straight into the light, as if mesmerised by it. Again we saw wallabies, pademelons and wombats, but no wild Tassie devils.
A wombat foraging in the grass, unfazed by our presence.
An interesting evening, and we were glad we had decided to go, but just as glad to get home to bed. It had been a long day!