Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tasmania, Day 5

My apologies to our fan club - we've been busy doing things, and I also ran out of bytes on the mobile hotspot wifi thingie - so we're catching up on posts.  Please be sure to check the list of previous posts to see if you missed anything.  I'm labelling Tasmania by day, so you can tell whether or not you missed something.  

And yes, kangaroos box.  They also hug.  I'm not sure what these two are doing, but they were just funny, so I took their photos.

L&K, Phebe

March 10, 2013

The day started out grey and drizzly, a typical Tasmanian and Southern Australian beginning to autumn – because this is the Australian Labor Day weekend, and of course that means autumn is at hand.  So, a grey and damp and cool and drizzly morning.  Not a day to go out exploring, but since we only have three and a half more days in Tasmania, we didn’t want to waste our time inside.

We got a slow start to the day, exploring a new part of the city to look for breakfast.  (More about that later.)  And then, we figured, well, why not – we came to Tasmania to see Tasmanian devils, so let’s go do that.
And wow, what a very wonderful decision that was!

We went to the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park:  This is located on a peninsula about an hour and a half east of Hobart.  The peninsula is better known for Port Arthur, home of the first jail here, as well as a massacre in recent times – the reason that Australia no longer permits personal ownership of guns.  Anyway, it was a decent drive along the Tasman Highway, across a few causeways, and down the peninsula.  And through much of the drive we were in the middle of the burned out area, from the huge forest fire a few months ago.  Something like 300 homes were burned, but no people died in the fire.  Unsure about the animals, though.  But it was a sobering sight, all the blackened and dead trees, the occasional foundation and chimneys of a home that is totally gone.

We arrived.  We paid the entrance fee.  We walked in.  Richard went to see a film, and I walked around a corner – and there they were, the little black Tasmanian devils, who jumped up and came running across their enclosure, looking like they were going to leap over the wall and attack me for their dinner!!!  They really are kind of freaky (and yes, I gave a little shriek!) – small, like a large cat, but looking more like a dog or something – big giant ears that glow kind of red, with jet black fur and white markings, often a line across the chest and maybe a dot or two on the back – and sharp little claws – and sharp big fangs!!!!  With a quivering nose that always seems to be sniffing the air for fresh meat and spilled blood!  Seriously, they look cute at first glance – maybe two siblings are cuddled up sleeping, with the occasional lick, acting like sweet little kitties.  Then the park owner announces feeding time, and shows up with some meat for these blood-thirstily carnivorous marsupials – and the devils begin growling and snapping at each other.  The park owner gives his talk, tells us which are the females, which the males.  Talks about trying to save this species from extinction.  The devils are circling, salivating, growling more.  Then the park owner throws a big chunk of meat, with bones and skin and fur intact, into the enclosure – and these animals turn into the most vicious little creatures I’ve ever seen!!!

One little T devil would snap up the food and, if another arrived within two seconds, the second one would also latch onto the food, and both would begin snapping and growling and snarling and fighting over the food, but neither would let go – it was a tug of war between two animals who had been snuggling together just a few minutes previously!  Then a third devil would come skulking over and try to grab the meat, and the chase was on – round and round the enclosure they would go, growling and biting and rolling over and each trying to get the meat, and the one with the food trying to outrun the others.  It was quite a chase!  The male in this enclosure is still a bit small, so the park owner tossed in a piece of meat for him, and the male grabbed it and ran off into a corner, where he commenced devouring the whole thing, crunching the bones and eating the fur and leaving absolutely nothing.  When he was finished, he went back to chasing the two females, who were still fighting over the meat they had.  Ferocious shrieking growls and clawing and biting by the one without the meat in its mouth – it was like a never-ending battle over dinner.  Mean little suckers!

The reason these animals are on the brink of 
extinction is that there’s a virulent cancer that has been decimating the population.  It’s a weird cancer, spread by the saliva of an infected T devil – one is infected, bites another, spreads the cancer, which shows up as facial tumors – and then that devil bites another, and another, and another – and they all die.  The park we went to is in an area that currently is free of this cancer, and so they’re trying to breed more devils who will eventually be released, and thus they can save this species. 

Okay, so enough about the devils – they look kind of cute, but they were disturbingly malicious.  Or so it seemed.  So – on to some sweeter animals.

Wallabies!  A mob of wallabies!  Really, that’s what a group of kangaroos or wallabies would be called – a mob.  I walked into the wallaby enclosure, and Richard came in a few minutes later – we both were greeted by wallabies bouncing over to us, because they knew it was just about feeding time, and they were ready!  What a way to be greeted, by a four foot tall animal bouncing over to you!  The wallabies (and other small kangaroos with odd names like pandaloonians or something) milled around for a while – a few 
letting people pet them, two either fighting or hugging or playing, but definitely being in each other’s faces – we just wandered amongst them, trying to pet one or two, talking to them, trying to fit in among the mob.

Then the food showed up, special kangaroo kibble and chopped up grasses – we were each encouraged to take a handful – and suddenly we were surrounded by the mob!!!  Kangaroos came crowding up to nibble the food right out of our hands – some of the bigger ones would nibble a little too hard!  They would also knock food out of our hands, which would then fall onto the back of a smaller kangaroo, and then they’d nibble to food off the other one’s back.  Somehow I ended up with the bucket of food, and people would come up to me to get another handful to feed more ‘roos.  And then the bigger ‘roos would come up and stick their heads in the bucket and try to eat all the food themselves!  Greedy wallabies!  So I’d have to pull them out and hold the bucket higher, until someone else would come to get a handful and another roo would stick his head in!  I kept trying to get more food to the baby wallabies, but those big greedy guys kept pushing me around!

Too soon, the food was all gone – the wallabies and ‘roos milled around for a while, hoping for more – some of the little ones let us pet them – and then most of them turned and started bouncing over to some trees, to clean themselves and then lie down in the shade.  Really, I was almost run over by a bouncing ‘roo who missed me by inches! 

We hung out with the wallabies for a while (the babies stayed with us, they seemed to like getting their heads pet, scratched under the chin, or behind the ears).

Then it was time to see the birds – today the frog-mouth birds were featured.  Weird birds that look like tree bark – they just sit in a tree, and at night they eat insects.  They actually have feathers over their eyes to protect them from too much moonlight!  Rather ugly birds, but also fascinating.  One lives there because he has a broken wing that didn’t heal right, and he can’t fly – but the other two can fly, and seem to have chosen to just stay there.

There were also rosellas, the brightly colored parrots - they're kept here because they've all been rescued from the wild, for one reason or other - many have broken wings, and such.

I also saw a kookaburra (in a swamp peppermint tree) – and heard the kookaburras calling with their somewhat demented laughing call, really a cackling like Macbeth’s witches.  Very cool, very eerie, very Australian.

We also saw eastern quolls, another carnivorous marsupial – but cute, spotted like a fawn and shaped more like maybe a chubby mongoose or ferret – not as long and thing, but not as husky as a raccoon.  They were cute, although they’re almost as bloodthirsty as the devils – their fresh meat was hung on a long bungee, so they had their “enrichment activity” of jumping to get the food, hanging on, ripping off pieces to eat, then jumping up again.  They were a bit like little acrobatic clowns, except that they literally were ripping up a big piece of meat – which was just a bit disconcerting.  They’re another little animal native to Tasmania and a few small areas of Australia, and no where else in the world.

Oh, and no one knows if there were once koalas in Tasmania – there’s no evidence of them, but with the Tasmanian devils who crunch up and eat bones, well, there’s not much evidence of any animals other than the ones who are still alive.

Richard wanted to try to fit a wallaby in the trunk of our car; he figured we could probably train it to help around the house.  They really were very cute. 
I’m glad he didn’t want to bring home a little devil.

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