Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cutest Little Devil

One of the first things we were told to do in Tasmania was to get off the road before dusk.  Tasmania has an abundance of wildlife and an abundance of road kill.  We saw our fair share of recently departed animals along the side of the road all across the island.  Lucky for us, we weren’t responsible for any of it.  Seeing so much road kill made me super determined to see more live specimens than dead ones.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see all that much in the wild since most marsupials are nocturnal.  The only exceptions were the handful of wallabies that we saw in various places, like this little cutie eating an apple core on the beach at Wineglass Bay:

We made up for our lack of animals in the wild with a stop at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary.  The sanctuary had mostly every animal I had wanted to see in Tasmania with the sad exception of the monotremes (egg-laying mammals).  The park had neither platypuses nor echidnas.  Platypuses are hard to find in the wild, but we did manage to catch a glimpse of a live echidna wandering along the roadside somewhere between Cradle Mountain and Strahan.

Bonorong takes in injured and orphaned animals from Tasmania and the mainland.  Many of the animals come with sad stories, but the sanctuary recuperates them to be released back into the wild or cares for them if they are unfit to be returned to nature.  The park was dominated by kangaroos. 

The kangaroos at Bonorong were quite docile and domesticated.  They came close to us with no issue.  Even from up close though, I had no idea how this mother fit this very large joey in her pouch.

The best part was getting to feed and pet the kangaroos!  Kangaroos can’t reach the area under their necks, so we were told to give them a good rub there.  Vince followed orders:

My hand went out full of kangaroo food and came back full of kangaroo slobber:

Michael’s milkshake brings all the kangaroos to the yard.  (milkshake = kangaroo food pellets)

We got a little bit closer and…

Looks like this kangaroo wanted something a little more than what Vince was offering.  Oh my.  Let’s move on to the birds!  The kookaburra, with its crazy laugh, is probably the most famous of all Australian birds:

But it’s certainly not the prettiest.  Colourful parrots, lorikeets, cockatoos, and the like abound in Australia and Tasmania.  One example is the galah.  The sign said that this one’s name is Bob.  I’m not even joking.

The little row of five tawny frogmouths were all blind in one eye and won’t be released back into the wild.  It’s a sad story, but you have to admit:  these little guys all in a row are quite possibly the most adorable thing ever.

Cape Barren Geese wandered freely around the park.  Cade decided to give them a little nibble as well:

The park also had emus, but they aren’t native to Tasmania so I won’t post them.  Another species not found in Tassie is the koala.  The park had several imported koalas as well, and I was super excited to get to pet one!  The photo of me petting the koala, however, was photobombed by Michael with a big ass grin in the background.  He knew what he was doing.  I will say one thing:  after petting a koala, my hand reeked of eucalyptus, which smells surprisingly like marijuana.  Who knew?

While the koala isn’t found in Tassie, its closest relative is.  Meet the wombat!

This wombat was nothing short of fucking adorable.  Seriously adorable.  Random facts for you:  wombat’s poop is cubic and they stack the cubes to mark their territory.  Also, the wombat has a big ass plate of cartilage in its backside.  When being chased by a predator, it runs into its narrow burrow and then lets the hunter put its head between its rump and the top of its burrow.  It then uses massive force to smash the intruder’s skull between its big butt bone and the ceiling.  Awesome!  So, moral of the story:  never put your hand in a wombat burrow.

Also, we saw various types of quolls, but they were all asleep.

Now, of all species in Tasmania, none are more characteristic than the ones that are named after Tassie:  the Tasmanian tiger and the Tasmanian devil.  The Tasmanian tiger, more formally called the thylacine, was Tasmania’s answer to the tiger:  a carnivore that sits on the top of the food chain.  A marsupial, it wasn’t at all related to an actual tiger.  Tasmanian tiger memorabilia, signs, exhibits, and more abound all across the state despite the thylacine being extinct since 1936.  It still remains on Tasmania’s official emblem:

Early European settlers named the other species the Tasmanian devil because of the devilish growling sound that it makes.  Like the thylacine, the devil is a carnivore – not common in marsupials – and survives on a combination of hunting and scavenging.  Fortunately, the Tassie devil is still around.  Early settlers believed that the devil was a threat to livestock and hunted it.  How could anything this cute be a threat??? Come on!!!

The devil earned protected status in the 1940’s, and its reputation was fixed after researches announced that it was really never a threat to livestock.  It then became an iconic symbol of Tasmania.  Then, in 1996, scientists discovered devil facial tumour disease, a type of cancer that is being passed from devil to devil around the island.  It has caused massive population declines and led to the devil being placed on the endangered species list in 2008.  Efforts to protect the devil are underway, and a breeding program is working to increase the size of the healthy captive population in case the species goes extinct in the wild.

Awwww!  Look at him!  With the little wallaby tail in his mouth… who wants lunch?

So, if you want to see a devil in person, you’ll need to come to Australia.  The only devils outside of Australia are at a zoo in Copenhagen (a gift from the Tasmanian government after the Prince of Denmark’s wife, a Tasmanian woman, gave birth to their first son), but it’s best to see them here – in their native habitat – in Tasmania – just in case they aren’t around too much longer.  Until you get to see one in person, here is a video of one wandering around in an adorable fashion.

It scratches itself like a dog!  How cute!!!!

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