Backpacking in Australia: Visiting the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park

Backpacking in Australia: Visiting the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park

It would be ludicrous to come all the way to Tasmania and not see an actual real life tasmanian devil. The problem is they are an endangered species and could easily become extinct, in fact we are told they could be gone in the next 10 – 15 years, so catch them now if you can.

There are only two countries in the world that currently have Tasmanian Devils. One of the countries is Australia. The other is Denmark, due to the link with Queen Mary. Mainland Australia and Denmark only have them in zoos or nature reserves. In Tasmania you get them in the wild. They can be found on the west coast, the east coast and on the specially named Tasmanian Devil Peninsula. They can also be found in a lot of zoos and reserves on the island. The main one is near Port Arthur on the Tasmanian Devil Peninsula. It is called Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park.

After 40 hours on the island of Tasmania I knew I would now be travelling alone. Paul, Neil and Daniel had all decided to move on elsewhere, which was sad as it was Daniel’s idea to come to Tasmania for work in the first place. I wasn’t ready to move so soon, so settled down and started working that week. However, just before I did, we had a few days of sightseeing left before saying goodbye to the guys. On the last morning together, Paul drove us to the Tasmanian Devil Peninsula. I wanted to see the devils, as did the others, but it would all come down to price, as the chance of seeing them in the wild was slim.

We got onto the picturesque Tasmanian Devil Peninsula on a gorgeous drive from capital city Hobart (where we were based at the Pickled Frog hostel). We were looking for a place called Taranna, hardly even a “village”, more a settlement off the side of an excellent scenic road. Just before getting to Taranna we had seen yellow road signs bearing the Tasmanian Devil on them, in black to remind us where we were and that there was a slim chance of seeing a wild devil – though the wild devils are the ones with the deadly cancerous disease, which explains why they are an endagered species. We also passed a place called “Bangor”, which had a colourful mural by it. Bangor, for those not aware is the quiet peaceful Northern Irish seaside dormitory town, where I lived 7 years ago.

In the car, I had a lot of literature on Hobart, Tasmanian Devils and general Tasmanian Information. I had the booklet for the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park. Like most things in Australia, it didn’t give prices, which is always dubious. We saw the big image of a Tasmanian Devil from the main road, and then we pulled over into the main car park. Paul and Daniel weren’t working, and haven’t worked in Australia to date, so for them money and prices always seems worse than what it is. For me, its nothing, as I’ve been earning more money in Australia in my two jobs here so far than any previous job in life. For Neil, he was still unsure as with travelling and living in so many countries, his view of money seems to change a lot. I would have paid the entry price no matter what to be honest. I wanted to see Tasmanian Devils.

The cost was $28 to get in per person, which I was earning easily in an hour of work on a Sunday in the pub, or in tips on one night. For the other 3, it seemed extortionate, was the impression I got. But anyway I spied the family special option, which is $69 for a family of 4. Well there were 4 of us, and we were a travelling family I thought. That would have meant just $18 each, a saving of $10. So I went back up and asked the very friendly young lady if we could possibly please go in as a family. And she said YES! So we were in. It was either that deal or we wouldn’t have gone in (and I’d have come back some other time on my own and seen it anyway, but now I don’t need to).

We got a map of the place and a guide to what was happening. It was a big park and included the following animals: Tasmanian Devils, Forester Kangaroos, Red-Necked Wallabies, Brushtail Possums, Eastern Quolls, Green Rosellas, Brown Falcons. There was a lot happening, with something different on every hour of the day, including video shows, live feeding and demonstrations of the animals and free bird shows. The guy on all the adverts and fliers was a ginger haired guy, who me and Daniel had already nicknamed Scholesy. he was a dead ringer for Paul Scholes.

We made it in there for the 11.15 am Tasmanian Devil feeding. On the way we read some of the information about the devils and saw two devils hiding in their small den. We walked round to where the live feeding session was, and we waited around. Straight away we saw the Tasmanian Devils! They looked totally incredible. I saw them as a mixture between a rat, a cat, a pig and a dog. They are black with pink ears and mouths. They have a tail, whiskers and the biggest bite of any mammal except for a shark. Their teeth and bite alone is frightening.

We got a few photos of the pair of devils we saw. It was clearly one male and one female. The female lay in the corner relaxing, while the male (whose balls were hanging down) roared and ran around, as if anticipating some food on the way. After a few minutes, the feeder, and expert Scholesy had arrived. The devils saw him and must’ve knew “food” was on its way. Scholesy started talking and giving us loads of information about Tasmanian Devils, almost all of which was new and exciting.

We found out about DFTD (Devil Facial Tumour Disease), which appears to be a form of cancer among Tasmanian Devils, appearing as lumps and legions on the face and neck. These lumps grow into large tumours which can prevent the animals from feeding properly and having the strength to get an adequate share of food and they often starve to death. These legions have also appeared on other areas of the body including the legs.

It is currently thought that DFTD is transmitted from one animal to another through biting while mating and fighting (we saw them biting each other a lot – they like to do this), but this may not be the only route of transmission. DTFD has a 100% mortality rate and animals die within 3 – 6 months. There is no way back once they get it. Tasmanian Devils have a very short lifespan anyway, normally 5 – 6 years. However ALL of the Tasmanian Devils in the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park are free from the deadly disease and are being looked after and cared for to ensure they don’t get it. Reproduction is a big part of the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park – they only have around 8 devils there. And as Scholesy told us, there are only about 1,500 Tasmanian Devils left on the planet.

There is a charity called The Devil ARC set up to help preserve this animal. It is Tasmania’s iconic species, famous the world over. Let’s hope they keep the animals in existence and get rid of the deadly disease. Though Daniel mentioned how the animal “looks historic, it looks like it doesn’t belong in today’s world”, and I could clearly see what he meant. When you see a Tasmanian Devil for the first time, you’ll be surprised at how it looks and how it seems to not fit. When Scholesy spoke of how they are trying to preserve the future of the Tasmanian Devils, Daniel also mentioned how it might be best not to interfere, and “just let the animals die off”, again it may sound controversial, but I could understand what he meant and why he said it. If they all ended up catching this deadly disease, they would be no more.

Here’s some of the fascinating facts we were to learn about this interesting creature:

– They have a huge bite

– they bark and grunt a lot

– they eat almost anything

– they eat animals whole – bones, eyes, fur they eat it all

– they crunch and eat bones whole

– they can crack any bone with one bite (including human bones)

– they live for around 5 years

– there are 3 in Denmark (a gift for Queen Mary from Tasmania)

– they are fierce

– they are also stupid and shy

– they are scavengers

– they are not really predators

– they eat other Tasmanian Devils

– there are only 1,500 left on this planet

– there are NONE wild anywhere else in the world except Tasmania

– the wild ones are very likely to catch DFTD

– the ones in reserves are free from DFTD

– DFTD kills them off in around 5 months

– they are an endangered species

– males fight with each other for a female and the female chooses the one they like and picks them

– they eat roadkill

– they keep 2 in each den only – one male and one female to try and reproduce

– the newborns are carried in a pouch

– there are about 8 born at once and only about 3 survive

– when born, each Tasmanian Devil is a white embryo smaller than a baked bean

Scholesy picks up a few dead animals from a box (he’s wearing gloves) something like rats, ferrets or rabbits and hangs them over the Tasmanian devils. the male devil jumps up, opening his mouth and bites the food off. The female comes over expecting him to share. He doesn’t. He wants it all. They have a tug of war over it – and the male wins. However there is more food to come – and the female in the end gets her fair share. I thought the male was particular cruel, unfair and too domineering over the female. You could hear them crunching the bones whole. Their teeth and their bite really is scary – and something worth seeing. You wouldn’t stick your arm down there over the den – they chop it off with one bite and eat the bit they had whole. You really wouldn’t believe it.

I’ll detail on another blog post the rest of the trip to Taranna and Port Arthur, which included hand feeding kangaroos, which was excellent.

Who Went – Jonny Blair, Neil Macey, Daniel Evans, Paul Demciuch

Where – Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, 5990 Arthur Highway, Taranna, Tasman Devil Peninsula, Tasmania, 7180

Websites –






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