Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harisii)
No way could this bad-tempered, carnivorous, marsupial be mistaken for anything else. Well, maybe a smallish dog, but only until it delivers one of its spine-chilling screeches. Then you’ll know how it came to be branded a devil. We took a trip to Tasmania especially to see these creatures in the wild before they disappear. They can look fierce and scary but when we cuddled some 6mth old road-kill orphans at a sister Wildlife shelter, they were as cute and cuddly as other joeys. Safe enough to let my son cuddle.
Basic data: The Tasmanian Devil is a nocturnal creature which behaves a lot like a fox during the day and hides in a den. They are not territorial but have a home range and can travel up to 16km in search of food. They walk with a unique, clumsy gait but can move quickly using a kind of gallop when needed. Young Devils are agile enough to climb trees. Adult males get to 12kg and sometimes the head accounts for up to one quarter of that. Hearing is excellent, eye sight is poor and they are color-blind so something standing still may not be detected. Black with a couple of white stripes across front as camouflage. They don’t form packs to hunt although they do eat in groups sometimes. They don’t attack humans but are very fierce when threatened and bites can crunch the bones of your hand.
Diet: Essentially a carnivore, they find Carrion if available or they hunt live prey like possums, wallabies, reptiles etc. Their jaws and teeth are powerful enough to deal with bones and fur as well as the meat. They provide a very useful service to the bush and farms by cleaning up carcasses and raising hygiene standards as a by-product.
Excess fat is stored in their tail, so a fat tail is a sign of a healthy animal.
Life cycles: Autumn is breeding season (March) and multiple young are born three weeks later. The correct term for pouch young is Joey but these are often called imps. The mother has a backward opening pouch with 4 teats but generally only two or three of the Joeys survive. They begin to venture out at 16 weeks of age and are sometimes left in the den while mum goes out to get food. She weans them at six months and by eight months (December) they are living independently. They start breeding at two years of age and live for 5 year in the wild. This short life span is a concern for their long-term survival.
Status: Endangered. In 2008, The Tasmanian devil’s status was formally upgraded to ‘endangered’ under Tasmania’s Threatened Species Protection Act 1995. The Australian Federal Government included the Tasmanian devil under the Commonwealth’s “Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999” so they are wholly protected. The government also funded an initiative called “Save the Tassie Devil” which is desperately seeking a cure.
Checkout this website and see footage of them feeding and hear what they sound like. http://www.tassiedevil.com.au/tasdevil.nsf
Many things have contributed to a reduction in numbers for this species – persecution by farmers, loss of habitat, road-kill, competition with foxes, quolls etc. By far the biggest impact comes from a recent form of cancer. Devil facial Tumour Disease has spread so quickly that the 90% of adults have disappeared from high-density areas. The disease is spread by contact during mating and fighting.
This is a true little Aussie battler fighting extinction and I hope we save a healthy population so they can return to their job of cleaning up the bush and reducing the numbers of feral dogs, cats, foxes decimating other wildlife.
Please consider making a donation to the University of Tasmania initiative to save the Tassie Devil from extinction. There’s a donation button on the website with more info, pics and sounds. Thanks for reading me, commenting, subscribing or Liking me on facebook.