Lesser-known wildlife… in Tasmania
Tasmania is an isolated island off Australia’s southern coast, known for its rugged landscapes and variety of wildlife. Walking the national park’s scenic trails offers the chance to see some of Australia’s best-loved animals as well as lesser-known endemic Tasmanian animals in the wild. There are also excellent conservation projects where you can learn more about these fascinating creatures and their habits.
The Tasmanian devil is the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial and can only be found in Tasmania. The devil resembles an angry wombat with its stocky furry body, screechy call and ferocious nature. Early European settlers called this bad-tempered creature the devil after witnessing its displays of rage when threatened by a predator, competing for a mate or defending a meal. Tasmanian devils can reach up to 30 inches in length and have one of the most powerful bites of any mammal. They use their incredibly sharp teeth to eat everything including the hair, organs and bones of their prey.
Thousands of years ago, the Tasmanian devil became extinct on mainland Australia because dingoes – Australia’s wild dog – were introduced into the ecosystem by Asian seafarers. Since then, they have only inhabited Tasmania, and in 1941 were made a protected species. In the late 1990s, Tasmanian devils faced a deadly facial tumour disease and were declared an endangered species in 2008. The Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary near Hobart runs a successful Tasmanian devil breeding programme.
Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle
Isolated from their mainland counterparts for over 10,000 years, the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle has become a subspecies. Only 130 pairs of the birds successfully breed each year in Tasmania. These impressive birds of prey have a wingspan of up to 2.84m and stand over a metre tall, making them the largest bird of prey in Australia. Effective hunters, they tend to feed on small animals like wallabies, rabbits and carrion.
Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle
Together with the platypus, echidnas are the only mammals that lay eggs. With its body covered in spines, you may well mistake the curious echidna for a hedgehog. The short-beaked echidna uses its long tongue to forage for ants, termites and worms. As one of Australia’s most widely distributed native mammals, they can be found in Freycinet National Park and Cradle Mountain.
Their spiny coat hides a muscular layer that allows the echidna to alter the contours of its body. This is so they can make their way into cracks to reach prey and to quickly burrow into the soil. Digging so quickly, they appear to sink into the soil and camouflage themselves.
These stout, nocturnal creatures are heavily built with powerful claws and protruding front teeth. Unlike other marsupials, wombats have rootless teeth. This means that their teeth continually grow, making them able to withstand the wear and tear from constant gnawing on vegetation. One of the best places to see wombats is at Ronny Creek in the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park. They can be seen at dusk and dawn from the boardwalks.
Wombat in Cradle Mountain
During migration, both southern right whales and humpback whales can both be spotted off the eastern coast of Tasmania. It’s especially exciting to spot the rare southern right whale, whose numbers have increased since the ban on commercial whaling. The whale watching season runs intermittently between the months of May and October. Frederick Henry Bay and Great Oyster Bay on Tasmania’s east coast are the best place to spot them.
Southern right whale
Extinct on mainland Australia since the early 60’s, the white-spotted eastern quoll is common in Tasmania. Mount Field National Park is a particular hotspot for these cat-sized critters. Competing with the larger Tasmanian devil for food, eastern quolls are savage predators and cunning opportunists. They often pinch morsels from feeding devils to supplement their main diet of invertebrates. Eastern quolls are even capable of taking prey nearly as large as itself!
Unlike their relatives – the kangaroo and the wallaby – pademelons are less well-known. The endearing, red-bellied Tasmanian species is plumper and hairier than its relatives on the mainland and abundant across Tasmania. Extinct on mainland Australia due to predators and land clearance, pademelons aren’t scarce in Tasmania. Their name is said to derive from the Aboriginal language. Best spotted at dusk on the edge of forests, they are the Tasmanian devil’s and quoll’s favourite meal.
Little penguins may be small, but they are fierce. As the smallest member of the penguin family, they use their streamline bodies to dive through the water, catching small fish, squid or krill. On average, they are 25-40cm in height and weigh the same as a small bag of flour. Little penguins can be found in a number of places around Tasmania, including Bicheno, The Neck on Bruny Island and Low Head.
Cox & Kings arranges tailor-made private travel throughout Tasmania. To visit many of the stunning sights described in this article, options include our Australia: Tasmania Self-Drive Explorer, or the Australian Outdoor Adventure. Alternatively, find out more about all our holidays to Australia here.Share: