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Biology

Species focus – Tasmanian Devils

Tasmanian Devil surveys the scene from some rocks

Tasmanian Devil at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park.

Okay, so a Tasmanian Devil might seem like an odd choice for someone born and raised in Canada, but I have relatives in Australia and I went there once when I was a kid. When I was there we had a rather eventful experience with Tasmanian Devils. We went to a wildlife park and the staff there let us feed the two Tasmanian Devils. We had very specific instructions: throw the first piece of meat in, the devils would run towards the meat. Then we had to throw the second piece in so that it landed in front of the second devil in the line. Unfortunately, the second piece landed and then rolled under a log. The next thing we knew, both of them were fighting over a single piece of meat. We may have been somewhat convinced that they were going to kill each other as they ran in circles around the enclosure, then fought over the meat and then ran the other way.

Tasmanian Devils tug of war

Tasmanian Devils tug of war

It all worked out in the end, one of the devils found the second piece of meat and they both ate happily. But if you ask me today about Tasmanian Devils I can still remember this whole event pretty vividly. And I totally understand why the Tasmanian Devil on Bugs Bunny was characterized the way it was, as a spinning crazy person. It seems pretty accurate.

The Tasmanian Devil is the largest surviving carnivorous marsupial. Like all marsupials, the young are born and then stay in the female’s pouch for four months. They are weened at five to six months. The adults are about the size of a small dog but they have a pretty ferocious personality. They will eat both carrion (dead animals) and prey and actually help to keep disease and insect infestations down by cleaning up the dead animals.

Sadly, like so many predators the devils were hunted and poisoned for many years. They have been protected since 1941 but were listed as endangered in 2008. One of the main issues is Devil Disease which is a face cancer that has killed 90% of adults in dense populations and 40-50% in medium to low density populations. Significant work is going into protecting the devils and restoring their populations.

For more information visit:
http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/?base=387
http://www.tassiedevil.com.au/tasdevil.nsf

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About Peyto

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities. Peyto is a reference to Bill Peyto who was an outfitter, trapper, and eventually a park warden in Banff National Park. Peyto Lake and Peyto Glacier are both named after him. He is also a distant relative of mine.

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