When my friend Anita told me we could tour Tasmania when we visited her and her husband in Australia, I thought: “Great, I can see some Tasmanian Devils.”
I told my daughter (she stayed behind) about the itinerary that included these irascible marsupials, and then I added, “The Tasmanian Devils are dying out.” Just to say that made both of us tear up. Thousands of types of animals are threatened with extinction, but the devils could be gone in only a few decades.
I’d read a heart-breaking story last year in the New York Times about a terrible infectious cancer (Devil Facial Tumor Disease) that could wipe out the Tasmanian Devil. Some scientists think the devil population may have dropped 50 percent or even more in the last dozen years. The disease is transmitted from devil to devil by biting, which the devils do while eating and mating. It’s no accident that they’re called devils, although they can also be very endearing. (See Harper’s Magazine link below. It’s a great article.)
Scientists and wildlife experts are trying to find a cure, but so far they haven’t come close. Wildlife experts also have set aside disease-free areas for the devils to live and reproduce. The devil only exists in the wild in Tasmania, an island that’s one of the states of Australia. Since the extinction of the Thylacine (also known as the Tasmanian Tiger) in 1936, the Tasmanian Devil is now the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world.
Study of the devil’s facial tumor is leading to better understanding of the nature of cancer itself.
At the first wildlife park we visited, my first sight of a devil was a sleepy creature in a burrow.
“Ahhh, so cute!”
He (or she) and his friends were soon up and chasing each other in a circle and also checking us out. They gave us the “vicious yawn,” which scientists think means the devil is thinking: “You don’t scare me.” The devils looked like small, stocky dogs and ran like raccoons. It wasn’t until the keeper tossed a fleshy bone to three of them, that their cantankerous side appeared. Their comraderie disappeared, and they grabbed onto the bone and wouldn’t let go. They made a terrific racket as they ran in circles, all three gripping the meat in their mouths together. Usually, devils are solitary but will come together when they find something delicious.
See the devils in action below in the YouTube video from the Discovery Channel.
Click on these thumbnails to see cards starring Tasmanian Devils on Greeting Card Universe.