Little Devils

Tasmanian Devil

It turns out that Tasmania Devils are nothing at all like the cartoon.

Tasmanian Devil

After half a devil-free week in Tasmania, Elizabeth and I managed to hit the devil’s pen at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo during feeding time.  The two devils, are normally kept segregated, other than a very dramatic and somewhat indelicate mating process showing on a continuous video loop.

Tasmanian Devil

As we saw in several other areas of the zoo, the keepers do their best to keep the animals on their toes by hiding their food around the pen, even chaining it in place, making them hunt for their dinner—which they do enthusiastically.

Tasmanian Devil

Intellectually, I actually did know that they didn’t look like the Looney Tunes cartoon character, but I had no internal picture of what one looked like. They turned out to be much sleeker than I’d imagined.   This carnivorous marsupial’s looks sort of like the offspring of the much uglier and clumsier American opossum, and some kind of mink, with a tail that put’s its American cousin to shame.

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian devils are running a serious risk of becoming extinct in the wild. Forced off of Mainland Australia by the arrival of the dingo, approximately 5000 years ago, The remaining Tasmanian population has a relatively small genetic pool.  An unusual form of cancer, called ‘devil facial tumour disease’, has a 100% mortality rate. DFTD is spread by contact, which is especially unfortunate for an inbred population that fights constantly over both food and sex. Breeding programs may be the only hope for the survival of this fascinating and ecologically important predator.

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