As part of my New Year’s resolution to finish updating the damn blog already, I give you my favorite non-Devil locals of Tasmania (if you missed my all-Devil, all-the-time post, check it out here).
Many of the animals I got up close and personal with in Tasmania were at sanctuaries, but not all of them. It was not unusual to see kangaroos, wallabys and pademelons (a wallaby-like animal) in parking lots and campgrounds, or to have to step around wombats on hiking trails.
I’d heard kangaroos were nasty and liked to kick and bite, but all the ones I ran into (not literally, fortunately) were docile and calm. Not that I tried to pet any of them.
Unfortunately, the flipside of having abundant wildlife is that Tasmania is, per capita, the roadkill capital of the world. The few times I was driving around dusk or shortly thereafter were nerve-wracking, especially on the forested mountain roads where it was not unusual to see 20 or 30 kangaroos and wallabies within a hundred meters or so.
I am pleased to report that I did not hit a single animal, though I was sorely tempted to have at an obnoxious currowong who stole the half bag of dates I was eating for lunch right out of my hands.
The punk came back moments later and tried to take my empty yogurt container. I was shouting at him “go ahead, try it! You feelin’ lucky? Try it!” as it struggled to fit the smooth, rounded plastic in its beak while horrified English tourists looked on (why does it seem that, abroad, English tourists are either drunken louts or exceedingly prim and judgmental sticks-in-the-mud?).
Australia has more than its fair share of whacky animals, so it was a thrill to see kangaroos and wallabies hopping around in the wild, except when they happened to be hopping right in front of my car (the brakes worked.).
I had middling hope of seeing the rare platypus (I never did) but was pleasantly surprised by the number of echidna I nearly stepped on/drove over. Echidna are the only egg-laying mammal other than the elusive platypus. They resemble a combination of tiny anteater and hedgehog and, when frightened, curl into a spiny ball. When run over, they flatten into a spiny pancake. While I saw the aftermath all too often, I’m just really happy I never did the squashing.
Aside from the Tasmanian Devil, the animal I most wanted to see was a wombat. They’re stocky, large marsupials and, to use one of my all-time favorite words, they’re crepuscular. Okay, yes, they also look like ewoks. Let’s not dwell on that, shall we, because it just reminds me of the pain and sense of betrayal lingering in the air after George Lucas disappointed me ever so much.
I had heard that the boardwalk trails in the lowlands of Cradle Mountain National Park were a great place to spot wombats in the wild at dusk. So I braved the rain and drove out to the trails, hoping to catch sight of one.
They were all over the place. Seriously. I probably saw about 30 without venturing more than a couple hundred meters on the boardwalk.
One of the many neat things about wombats is their butts. They have virtually no tail and a hard piece of cartilage on their posteriors. They live in deep burrows and, when they feel threatened, they run back to their borrows and “close the door” with their butts, blocking any predators. Because their butt-plate is hard, has no nerves or blood vessels, it’s very difficult for would-be predators to get a good grip and inflict damage or pull the wombat out.
Wombats are generally shy, but I got to actually hold one–an 18-month-old named Maggie–at Trowunna Wildlife Park. Maggie had been rescued as a roadkill orphan and was being raised at the sanctuary. She was very docile and cuddly but felt like a fur-covered sandbag, weighing in at near 10kg (22 pounds) and nowhere near done growing. A fully-grown wombat can weigh up to 40kg (88 pounds).
Trowunna has loads of different kinds of animals, many of them roadkill orphans, including an enormous mob of free-range kangaroos (yes, “mob” is the collective noun, almost as good as a “murder of crows.”)
Also wandering about the grounds were an assortment of birds, including a family of Cape Barren geese, the rarest goose in the world and indigenous to Tasmania.
Kangaroos are derided as dumb pests by many Australians (certainly several who couldn’t believe I would pay to see them in a sanctuary instead of “just hitting them” with my car. Nice, mate. Proves there are idiots on all sides of the world). Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, kangaroos showed their smarts by being adorable as possible to get more feed from squeeing tourists.
As with other wildlife sanctuaries I visited during my time in Tassie, you could feed the kangaroos and wallabies by hand and they were as docile as well-trained dogs. Good thing, too, considering their physiology. Look at those claws. They could really hurt you if they felt like it.
Next to the many Tasmanian leeches I encountered, the smallest critter I saw on my travels was a skink. I went to the Parks Department website after spotting it on the boardwalk trail at Walls of Jersusalem National Park but was unable to determine what kind of skink it was, there being rather a lot of different kinds in Tasmania, including more than one variety of snow skink.
Yes, a lizard that lives in snow. I told you Tasmanian wildlife was whacky.
Even the birds are a bit, er, odd, such as the Kookaburra and close cousin the Frogmouth.
The Frogmouth is not, in fact, closely related to owls. Unfortunately I didn’t get a shot of them eating, but when they do, you see how they earned their name. Their wide beak opens to reveal an enormous, gaping maw like that of a giant frog.
The most memorable birds I saw in Tasmania were, however, a few that found forever homes at various sanctuaries after being shot, mauled, run over or electrocuted in power lines.
And yes, this being Australia, I saw koalas. Koalas are not native to Tasmania (I saw them in the wild outside Melbourne, subject of an upcoming post) but the Bonorong Wildlife Park had a few hanging around. Personally, I am indifferent to koalas, though I must admit I cannot look at one without thinking of Ed Asner.
Okay, okay, there’s your token koala picture. Whatever. Let’s look at more photos of hoppy and flappy things!
But wait, there’s more:
I think one of the things that impressed me overall during my stay in Tasmania was the dedication of all the people I met, some staff and some volunteers, at the various wildlife sanctuaries I visited.
It poured rain and leeches nearly every day I was in Tasmania, but these folks were out there in the mud picking up roo poo, harvesting roadkill to feed the devils, answering tourists’ endless questions (ahem).
I salute you, Wildlife Park Folk of Tasmania… may your khakis never crease and your Wellies never spring a leak as you go about your noble mission.