A few years ago I got a wild hair and went walkabout on Tasmania, the land down under, down under. I picked up a bicycle in Hobart and spent 6 weeks riding it all the way around the Island. I saw many strange and interesting creatures, some of which I show here.
Tasmania has many species which have become, or are on the verge of extinction on mainland Australia. The lack of introduced predators and the relatively large amount of intact habitat on the island, make Tasmania a final refuge – a last chance – for many species. This essay focuses on marsupials which are mammals that carry their young in a pouch on their belly. Inside the pouch are teats that the newborns attach to. I find it fascinating how the tiny newborn find their way up into the pouch.
The marsupial we are most familiar with is the Kangaroo. But did you know that there are 47 different varieties of Roo? They range from the so called Kangaroo Rat with it’s rat like tail, weighing in at a whopping 12 ounces, all the way up to the Grey Kangaroo at 200 pounds. The Pademelon is a mid-size Roo. They are very pervasive on Tassie, which is very odd considering their proclivity to commit suicide by car. While riding my bicycle all the way up the East coast my nose was assailed by the stench of rotting Pademelon.
The Tasmanian Devil stands about a foot high at the shoulder. About halfway through my trip I was camped beside a beautiful bay absolutely alive with birds up near Cape Portland on the NE corner of the Island. There was a smallish tree beside my tent and all was peaceful. Until just after it got dark and dreamtime was approaching. Blood curdling screams and a wild ruckus had me shining my flashlight into the branches of the tree above me where two of these devils were chasing each other around and around the tree screaming like banshees! The sad part of the Tasmanian Devil story is that they are being decimated by a herpes like virus that eats their faces away.
The Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine, stands about two feet high at the shoulder. Although there have been no official documentation of the Tiger in recent years it’s suspected that the critter may still exist in the wild. In the ’30’s there was a bounty put on the Tiger because they competed with the sheep farmers. Thousands were exterminated, and with the population fractured they didn’t have a fighting chance. So, if you see one today consider yourself very lucky!
One memorable day I was riding my bike up a very remote hot, dry and dusty dirt road. There was the usual Eucalypts forest on both sides. Looking ahead I spied one of these cute little Echidnas waddling slowly across the road. It was not in any hurry and was not going to speed it’s pace for the likes of me. They appear to be a cross between an anteater and a porcupine. Makes a person wonder how the little ones avoid getting impaled on the quills.
So, while the Pademelon and speedy vehicles seem to always be on a collision course, the Wombat’s story is different. A guy I was camped next to explained it to me this way. “If you hit one of those it’ll wreck your car, they have a hard shell under their fur that is super tough”. The 60 pound Wombat uses it’s cartilaginous carapace as a plug to seal off it’s underground burrow. The dingo can’t dig through it!
Tasmania has quite the odd assortment of Marsupials. I’ll bring you more of these fascinating creatures in the next issue!
These pictures came from various non-copyright sources.