My guest today is Denise DiNoto, a new writing friend. Denise is someone who was an instant fit in our large writing group, and is perfect blend of earthy humor and gorgeous prose wrapped up in an affable and adventurous nature. I am so pleased to share with you today one of her posts written about her recent return trip to Australia. Denise has a wonderful blog called DeeScribes: Following her writing dreams which you can find by clicking the orange hypertext link you just passed. Back up a bit, and you’ll find it there right above here.
In June 1990, I learned I was going to be hosted by a club in Tasmania, Australia for my year as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. Like most Americans, I knew little about Tasmania, a lovely island off the southeast coast of Australia. The only thing I knew was Tasmanian devils lived there.
My first exposure to the Tasmanian devil came courtesy of Warner Brothers. I was acquainted with the whirling dervish who laughed maniacally. When I traveled to Tasmania in August 1990, I learned the truth about Tasmanian devils and fell in love with this iconic animal which represents the island I called “home” for a year.
Tasmanian devils once lived on mainland Australia, but now only live on Tasmania. They are marsupials and grow to be the size of a small dog. The early European settlers of Australia called the animal the devil because of its black color and the its wild screeching calls. If you would like to hear what a Tasmanian devil sounds like, visit the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Services website to listen for yourself: http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/?base=387.
Tasmanian devils are carnivorous and their powerful jaws and teeth are able to crush bones and teeth of prey or carrion. Like many Australian marsupials, the Tasmanian devil is nocturnal. On my first visit to Australia in 1990, I frequently saw Tasmanian devils on the side of the road, scavenging for food and eating carcasses of other animal victims of roadkill. On my most recent visit to Tasmania last month, the only Tasmanian devil I saw was this delightful devil named Banjo, who lives at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary.
Twenty five years ago, I held a baby Tasmanian devil when I visited a wildlife park. The black fur ball ran up my arm, clamped its teeth on my sweatshirt and held on for dear life. I smiled for a photo as it opened its mouth to yawn, a reaction to fear and uncertainty.
Tasmanian devils face a future of fear and uncertainty now. Since the mid 1990’s, the Tasmanian devil population has severely declined, some estimate by as much as 90%, due to Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). This fatal condition is a cancer which spreads through direct contact between devils. Tasmanian devils often squabble while feeding and their direct facial contact exposes them to disease. DFTD causes bleeding lesions and tumors around the face which prevent the animals from eating, leading to infection and starvation.
The species is now endangered and protected. There are preservation efforts throughout Australia to ensure the continued survival of the Tasmanian devil. The Save The Tasmanian Devil Program http://www.tassiedevil.com.au/tasdevil.nsf is the Australian and Tasmanian government initiative to investigate DFTD and focuses on research, population monitoring and conservation. Zoos and wildlife sanctuaries across Australia have been involved in establishing and maintaining insurance populations.
While visiting Tasmania in March, I learned more about the Maria Island Devil Translocation Project. This project was undertaken as a means to establish a protected population of healthy, wild Tasmanian devils. Twenty eight devils were introduced to Maria Island, an island off the east coast of Tasmania. This introduced population has had two successful breeding seasons and the population is growing. It is hoped this insurance population, along with those at other locations and zoos, will help save the species from extinction and will also provide disease-free devils which can be reintroduced to mainland Tasmania.
The Tasmanian devil, an animal once regarded by European settlers as a nuisance, is now much more appreciated as a valued member of the island ecosystem and environment. It is known around the world as a symbol of Tasmania. Whenever I talk about my trips to the island, I am always asked, “Did you see any Tasmanian devils?”
Yes, I have seen them. I have watched them, amazed at their ferocity and playfulness. I have a photo to prove my close encounter with a Tasmanian devil. The photo shows a young girl of 16, wearing the gigantic glasses which were popular in 1990.
Everyone laughs at those glasses when they see the image. In the future, I hope they continue to comment on the glasses and not the fact I am holding an animal which has become extinct.