On Saturday David and I drove my mother down to the Port Arthur penal colony for some historical education, and we stopped at the Tasmania devil conservation park en route.
When I first told friends about our impending Tasmanian adventure, there were lot of jokes about watching out for rabid cartoon characters. Most of you probably know Taz, the giant, slobbering whirlwind of a Tasmanian devil imagined into popular culture by Looney Tunes. In reality, devils are quite shy little animals, about the same size as the average cat. They sleep their days away, and go foraging for carrion at night. Their name comes from the absolutely terrifying noises they make when they find carrion and start to fight amongst themselves for the privilege of eating it. And they eat it with a set of jaws about the same size as those on your average dog. As such, your average Tasmanian devil is about 60% body and 40% head.
Unfortunately for the little devils, their constant squabbling over food is rapidly leading to their demise. The Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) is endemic in the wild population – one of only three known contagious cancers. The conservation park is currently breeding a disease-free population while working on a cure, so we were happy to pay their relatively steep admission fees. Poor little devils, indeed.