Living in New Zealand where there are no native mammals (aside from bats), I was most looking forward to experiencing some of Tasmania’s unique wildlife. Marsupials, or pouched mammals, are most common and range from the famous Tasmania Devil to the now extinct Tasmania Tiger. While many of these mammals are at risk of extinction on mainland Australia, Tasmania is a final refuge for these mammals with its lack of introduced predators and largely intact island habitat.
While we hoped to see as many of these mammals in the wild during our hikes throughout the National Park, these mammals are quite allusive and many of which are nocturnal or small in numbers. In order to get a hands on experience with some of these creachers, we visited Trowunna Wildlife Park just an hour east of Cradle Mountain. A privately owned 65 acre wildlife park, they focus on wildlife conservation and education of Tasmania’s native flora and fauna. Although there are over 33 native terrestrial and 41 marine mammals which are known to occur in Tasmania, these are some of our favorites from our trip.
If there’s one animal I was most looking forward to seeing it was the Tasmania Devil. The wacky cartoon character was one of my favorites growing up, and although in real life they look nothing like the Warner Brothers cartoon, their attitude and presence was pretty spot on!
With their bone chilling screech, red pointed ears and bad-temper, it’s no wonder the early European settlers called them The Devil. These pint-sized carnivorous marsupials are no bigger than a small dog, but sound and look incredibly fierce.
Mainly a scavenger, the devils feed on whatever is available. Known for its rowdy, communal feedings, it can devour its prey – bones, fur and all – with its powerful jaws and sharp teeth. We were able to witness this loud, almost stomach churning sight during one of the daily feedings at Trowunna Wildlife Park. As the ranger held the carcase of a roadkill wallaby, half a dozen devils latched onto the body as they snarled, screeched and chomped their way through the feast. It took them less than 45 minutes to completely devour the animal (although I couldn’t stand to stay to watch the whole things)
Over the last decade a devastating disease has swept through Tasmania’s devil population, killing upwards of 90% in densely populated areas. The disease causes lesions and lumps around the mouth that develop into cancerous tumors that can spread to the entire body. Trowunna Wildlife Park house the world’s largest population of endangered Tasmanian Devils and provide a successful breeding and education program. The guys and gals in the above picture might like they are diseased but they’re just the old ones living in a special fenced off retirement village.
The Forester (or Eastern Grey) Kangaroo is the largest marsupial in Tasmania, and the second largest in the world (next to Australia’s Red Kangaroo). When we arrived at Trowunna Wildlife Park I literally squealed in excitement when I saw a basket of pellets for sale that read “For feeding Kangaroos and Wallabys”. I thought we were just going to be able to SEE the kangaroos not actually feed them!!!
It was even more exciting when we walked out to the paddock and saw over a dozen Forester Kangaroos hoping around the field. This was seriously one of the highlights of our trip!!! I had never seen a kangaroo in real life let along have a chance to feed them, and although it was a little intimidating at first when they would bound towards you looking for the food, it was an experience I won’t soon forget. Especially since there were a few mama’s carrying little joey’s in their pouch!! In this moment (below) I was freaking out on the inside, so excited to be in this magical place!!
The cute little juvenile forester took quite a liking to Jordan and I. He followed us around, probably for the food, but also he loved when Jordan would scratch around his neck. It’s hard to describe just how cute these little creatures are but I was seriously contemplating how I could sneak this little guy home with us. Not sure I would be able to get him by New Zealand’s airport screening, but it was nearly worth a try. I burst out laughing when I saw him scratching his tummy but managed to tell Jordan “Hurry, get the camera!” as he caught him in the act.
Before visiting Tasmania I had never heard of a Wombat. The largest burrowing mammal, it’s often mistaken for a badger however its closest relative is the Koala. With its short tail and legs, characteristic waddle and ‘cuddly’ appearance the wombat is one of the most lovable of Tasmania’s native animals.
Mainland wombats can get as large as 1m in length and 27kg, but the Tasmanian Wombat is less bulky, weighing upwards of 20kg and measuring 80cm. They have a shiny, course coat with a thick layer of cartilage on their rump for protection from predictors teeth and claws. Unfortunately the wombats at the wildlife park were orphans whose mothers had been killed by a car on the road. Boy did these one year old babies just LOVE being cuddled. During the interactive session we had a chance to hold one of the babies – she was like a real-life teddy bear I didn’t want to let go! Let’s just say I have a new favorite animal 🙂
This has to be one of the funniest birds. During our first few days when we were hiking in Wineglass Bay we heard this bizzare cackling coming from the bush. My first instinct was “Are there monkeys in Tasmania?!”
A carnivorous bird in the kingfisher family, the Laughing Kookaburra gets its name from its iconic calling to mark its territory. Often one bird starts with a low, hiccuping chuckle, then throws its head back in screeching laughter. Others often join in if a rival tribe responds, filling the bush with ringing laughter.
Australia Fur Seal
During our kayaking trip along the Tasman Peninsula, we saw several Australia Fur Seals near the famous Cape Huay. Found sun bathing along the rocks, as soon as we came close enough their curiosity got to them and before we knew it they were swimming around our kayaks.
These playful characters hung around with us for quite a while, popping their heads out of the water to check us out before diving back under the water.
Before we understood the differences between a kangaroo and a wallaby, I’m pretty sure we mistook several wallaby’s for kangaroos. The difference is subtle to anyone foreign to Tasmania and Australia, but upon closer examination, the characteristics are clear. Wallaby’s are smaller in stature and have a distinct black nose and paws, and white stripe on the upper lip.
They are the most common mammal seen in the wild in Tasmania and we saw them on several occasions during our hikes in Cradle Mountain, Wineglass Bay and Walls of Jerusalem. They are quite curious little creatures and were often found near our campsites getting close enough to check us out, but always out of arms reach.
Eastern & Spotted-tailed Quoll
Eastern and Spotted-tail Quolls are small spotted carnivorous marsupials about the size of a cat. The Eastern Quoll has thick soft brown or black fur with spots except for the tail (it sometimes has a strip). The Spotted-tailed Quoll (or Tiger Quoll) is considerably larger and can vary from reddish-brown to dark brown in color with spots on the body and tail. Although they appear to be harmless, the Spotted-tailed Quoll are one of the most feroious animals in Tasmania’s bush!
Platypus, Echidna and Tasmanian Tiger
While we didn’t get a chance to see any of these three during our trip, they are unique enough I that I felt they deserved a mention. I REALLY wanted to see a Platypus while in Tasmania but luck just wasn’t on my side. We didn’t have time to detour up to Platypus House in Beauty Point and I even though I literally checked every river and pond we came across, I never got to see the duck-billed, web-footed creature.
We heard a lot of people talk about the Echidna. They are spiny ant eaters who are one of only two monotremes or egg-laying mammals found in the world (the other being a Platypus!) They remind me of a porcupine found back home in Canada, but much less dangerous.
Lastly, the Tasmanian Tiger. Unfortunately this unique mammal has been extinct since 1936 due to excess hunting and killing from European settlers. The Tasmanian Tiger looked like a large, long dog, with stripes, a heavy stiff tail and a big head. Its scientific name, Thylacinus cynocephalus, means pouched dog with a wolfs head. The animal was largely misunderstood by early settlers and despite their shy and reclusive behavior were feared and hunted to its extinction.
What’s the most unique animal you’ve seen in your travels?