Fossils found by archaeologists tell us that Tasmanian devils once lived on the Australian Mainland, but today they are only found in one place, and that is Tasmania. Early Europeans who settled in Tasmania did not like that the devils ate their chickens. One land company paid people for Tasmanian devil corpses, and these animals nearly became extinct. Fortunately in 1941 a law was passed to protect them.
Tasmanian devils are primarily black in colour with white markings on their rump and chest. Males stand about 30 centimetres at the shoulder and can weigh up to 12 kilograms. The Tasmanian devil is a marsupial, which means the females have a pouch where they carry their young for the first few months. While she gives birth to anywhere between 20 and 40 babies at a time, she only has 4 teats so only the fastest 4 babies have a chance at life.
Are These Devils Dangerous?
These marsupials do not attack people, and for the most part they are not dangerous. The only time they attack humans is to defend their lives if the humans attack or trap them first. Although the Tasmanian devil looks fierce due to the fact that its head is slightly larger than the rest of its body, the reality is that it would rather avoid humans completely! It looks the way it does because it needs powerful jaws to chew through bones.
Tasmanian devils help control feral cat and fox population in Tasmania, which helps protect birds and such that those animals prey upon. While they like to feast on fresh meat, they are not too picky and will even eat rotting meat, as these little scavengers are true carnivores and can eat up to 10% or more of their own body weight every day depending on how hungry they are!
Devil Facial Tumour Disease
In 1996, photographs of Tasmanian devils located in the north-east section of the island showed the animals as having large facial tumours, which are a symptom of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). Only one of three cancers discovered that can spread like a contagious disease, DFTD is spread between Tasmanian devils through biting. Although it has affected more than 60% of Tasmania, to date it has not been recorded west of the Murchison Highway.
By the time tumours become visible, the Tasmanian devil can expect to die within a few months later. The reason is because the facial tumours make it difficult for the devils to eat which leads to death by starvation and the body’s organs shutting down. DFTD is causing a decline in the Tasmanian devil population, so much so that the animal is now listed on the endangered species lists for both federal and state governments. It is also listed on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
By including the Tasmanian devil on these lists, the Tasmanian devil is wholly protected from humans who might harm or attack them. According to an article in National Geographic, without that protection this animal could face total extinction in the wild within the next twenty years.