These infamous creatures, the Tasmanian Devil sarcophilus harrisii, are the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial. Their powerful jaws, sharp claws, and intense screeches give them a fierce reputation that led to their name. They have mostly black fur with white markings on the chest. They have a squat build with a short, thick tail. Male Tasmanian Devils can weigh up to 12kg, and females up to 10kg.
This nocturnal scavenger will travel up to 16 km to find food. They’ll search out whatever is available and are known for feeding on carcasses - bones and fur included! Their powerful teeth enable it to completely devour their prey, alive or dead. They feed on roadkill and as a result are often hit by cars. Wallabies, reptiles, small mammals, and carcasses of sheep and cattle are all fair game. They have a slow gait but can speed up when needed.
Although they are known for their fear-inducing noises, this comes more from fear than aggression. They make a variety of unique noises, including a sharp sneeze that is used when confronting other devils and they are about to fight. Under duress they are known to produce a strong odour but do not feature an obtrusive smell when they are calm. Image thanks to Wai Nang Poon.
Although the devil is now an icon to the island state of Tasmania, it once populated mainland Australia as well. It became extinct there 400 years ago as a result of changing weather patterns and the spread of the dingo, which did not enter Tasmania.
Historically the devils were not appreciated by the European settlers of Hobart and considered a threat to their poultry yards. For more than a century they were killed off and almost became extinct.
They were ultimately protected by law in June 1941. Following this their population increased in forest, woodland, and agricultural areas and it was chosen as the symbol of the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Sadly, the 1996 identification of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) has had a devastating effect on the population. It is a fatal condition which is diagnosed by cancers around the mouth and head. The red fox was also introduced to Tasmania in 1999 or 2000, which competes with the juvenile devils for den sites and habitat. Due to these growing threats, the devil’s status was formally upgraded to ‘endangered’ in May 2008 under Tasmania’s Threatened Species Protection Act 1995.
Meanwhile, they have become wholly protected since the Federal Government included the devil under the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Image thanks to Tourism Tasmania & Trowunna Wildlife Park.
Populations of Tasmanian devils can be found throughout the island, from the coastal regions to the mountain ranges. As long as they can find shelter and food they can usually make a home there. From suburban fringes to sclerophyll rainforests, they can be found. However, as they are shy, nocturnal creatures they are hard to find and not seen easily.
After a 21 day gestation period (mate in March and born in April), the average number of young that survive is 2 or 3. The mother can accommodate up to 4 since her backward-opening pouch has 4 teats. They remain in the pouch for approximately 4 months before they emerge and live in a den for a few months. After this, they are ready to set out alone and have left the mother by late December. They live up to 7-8 years and start breeding at the end of their second year. Image thanks to Tourism Tasmania & Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary.
Being a nocturnal scavenger, they are difficult to find in the wild. Therefore, the best place to view them up close is in one of the several animal parks in Tasmania listed below. Tasmanian Devil pictures thanks to Tourism Tasmania & Petra Harris.
Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary - Brighton
Trowunna Wildlife Park – Mole Creek
East Coast Natureworld – Bicheno
Tasmanian Devil Unzoo – Taranna, Tasman Peninsula.
Devils@Cradle- Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary - Cradle Mountain