I visited Tasmania as part of the Behind the Scenery campaign. To see more of my stories and photos, visit the Behind the Scenery magazine site.
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It comes into view as a whirling tornado, causing destruction and chaos while sounds of crazed gobbledygook fill the air.
For most of the world, this is what a Tasmanian devil looks and acts like – like the Looney Tunes character known and loved throughout television watching generations.
But did you know that the Tassie devil is both real and mostly docile?
In fact, on my recent trip to Tasmania’s North West, I pet a real, live, calm Tasmanian devil.
His name is Aussie, born and raised in captivity, so I DO NOT RECOMMEND TRYING THIS AT HOME (the claws on those little guys are impressive). However, I do recommend paying him a visit at the lovely Tasmanian devil sanctuary, Devils@Cradle.
Devils@Cradle offers visitors an open pen experience, where peering over the top of an enclosure lets us see into the daily lives of these cute little creatures. The sad side of this story, however, is the reasoning behind the need for such a sanctuary.
See, Aussie has been raised and prized as a resident of Devils@Cradle because of his genetic background, with one of his parents having come from the area near the Arthur River. Tasmanian devils of this area are believed to have a natural genetic resistance to the devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) that has been heavily endangering the wild population in recent years. DFTD, while once thought to be caused by a virus or carcinogens and pollution, is now understood as a cancer, and one that is actually transferred through physical contact – like fighting, which in devils is both common and done with aggressive bites to the face.
Sources say that the overall devil population has declined in the region of 80-95%.
Luckily, there are still healthy devils around, like Aussie, and animal sanctuaries, like Devils@Cradle, battling the disease through research, education and protection. Years of looking closely at the disease has unveiled that lack of genetic diversity in the population may enable the mutation of the facial tumor to run rampant. That’s where our little Aussie comes in.
Because of natural barriers separating the east and west sides of Tasmania, the population in the north west presents a slightly different genetic background, and one that hasn’t seen the same effects of the disease. The key at this point in devil conservation is simply breeding devils of different regions and backgrounds in hopes that it strengthens the remaining population.
During my brief visit to Devils@Cradle, Aussie was introduced, for the 3rd time, to a lovely little lady devil. You could tell he was walking on eggshells after being placed in the pen where potential lady friend rested in her shelter; after hearing about the encounters on the two previous occasions, it was not hard to understand why!
All was calm and peaceful for several minutes until, apparently, Aussie got a bit too close for comfort. Lady devil spun right out of her shelter and chased him away in that cartoon-like aggressiveness.
Talk about playing hard to get!
I guess she just doesn’t know the severe importance of this particular mating encounter. You know, the whole future-of-the-species-depends-on-it kind. No, lady devil, this is not just another lame pick-up line.
But Devils@Cradle worker Danielle and her team are determined to keep pushing the pair. Hopefully, with a little match-making and a watchful eye, the future of the iconic Tasmanian devil will not be written alongside the likes of its once upon a time neighbor, the Tasmanian tiger.
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Devils@Cradle is open daily from 10am, and is easily accessible on the way to Cradle Mountain.