Tasmanian DevilsBy Hannah Schardt; photos by Suzi Eszterhas
This fierce-looking Australian mammal has a devil of a name—and faces a devil of a problem!
With its massive mouth full of big, sharp teeth, the Tasmanian devil at right looks a little scary. But it’s really just trying to say to a person who is coming too close, Back off! I’M the one who’s scared.
Tasmanian devils do have something to worry about. Only about 5,000 of them remain in the wild, all on the Australian island of Tasmania (taz-MAYnee-uh, see map). Just a few years ago, they were in danger of disappearing altogether. But now, people in Australia are working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. To find out how, keep reading.
THE REAL TAZ
A marsupial (mar-SOO-pee-ul) is a kind of mammal that is born teeny-tiny, then grows up inside a pouch on its mom’s belly. When you think of a marsupial, you may picture a bouncy kangaroo or a cute koala. But Tasmanian devils are marsupials, too. (A newborn devil is the size of a grain of rice!)
A fully grown Tasmanian devil is the world’s largest meat-eating marsupial. And, thanks to a certain Looney Toons character, it has a bit of a bad reputation. The cartoon character known as Taz spins like a whirlwind and eats everything in sight. The real-life Tasmanian devil is very shy and will avoid people in the wild. It may try to hunt small kangaroos. But it’s mostly a scavenger, eating roadkill or another animal’s meaty leftovers. If it’s defending food or a mate, though, a Tasmanian devil will growl, hiss, bare its teeth, and deliver a mighty chomp. In fact, for its body size, it has the strongest bite of any meat-eating mammal.
TROUBLE IN TASMANIA
In recent years, all that biting has gotten Tasmanian devils into some serious trouble. Thousands of them have died from a disease that is spread through bites. Even before the disease showed up, devils had problems: Wild dogs called dingoes killed them or competed with them for food. People considered Tasmanian devils pests, so they trapped and poisoned them. And many were killed by cars.
But Australians realized that the Tasmanian devil is a rare, special animal. In fact, a few years ago, Tasmania made the devil its official state animal. Now rescue groups care for injured or orphaned devils until they’re ready to go back to the wild. Some groups also keep a number of Tasmanian devils in captivity, where they can raise babies without risk of disease. And scientists are testing a vaccine—a shot that will prevent healthy Tasmanian devils from catching the deadly disease. You could say these devils have a whole lot of guardian angels!