Many unique species thrive in Tasmania, one of the world’s most unusual ecosystems. However, increasing development, including logging, mining, and other industries, threaten many of the island’s most beautiful places. The clash between wilderness and development—including the inevitable loss of habitat—is only one of the factors threatening Tasmanian devils.
What does a country do when its mascot is dying? Granted, there’s nothing cuddly about the Tasmanian devil—these stocky, sharp-snouted little black beasts are vicious scavengers, not nearly as funny as Bugs Bunny’s jabbering cartoon pal. But Tasmanians are perversely fond of those cranky doglike critters, and there’s a passionate campaign afoot to save them from extinction. They may be the victims of their own bad habits—an appetite for roadkill on busy highways, and their habit of biting each other’s faces while quarreling over carrion, thus spreading a rare facial cancer—but the loss of any species is a tragedy.
Dingoes wiped out the Tasmanian devils from Australia long ago, but dingoes never crossed Bass Strait to reach Tasmania, the big island that punctuates the Australian continent like the dot under an exclamation point. Island isolation gave Australia a menagerie of unique species, but Tasmania kicks it up another notch. While Australia’s climate is mostly tropical, Tasmania lies in the temperate zone, which puts an entirely different spin on its ecosystem. Tasmania’s got wallabies, bandicoots, wombats, and possums, but it’s got different wallabies, bandicoots, wombats, and possums. It’s also a land of unique tree frogs and parrots, a place of such ecological rarity that its wilderness has won World Heritage status.
Only a couple hours’ drive from Hobart, Tasmania’s capital, you’ll find yourself in a rugged terrain of incredible beauty. Running through it like a spine is the 85km (53-mile) Overland Track, the best-known hiking trail in all of Australia. At one end the trail is anchored by Cradle Mountain, a spectacular jagged gray ridge face with four craggy peaks; at the other lies the long narrow glacier-carved Lake St. Clair, Australia’s deepest freshwater lake. The trek between
them traverses high alpine plateaus, marshy plains of rare button grass, springy heathland, fragrant eucalypt forest, dusky woods of myrtle beech (one of the few Australian native trees that isn’t an evergreen), and one of the planet’s last temperate rainforests. The path is well marked and improved, including stretches of boardwalk and a series of public sleeping huts. Tour companies run 5-to-10-day guided treks along its length; plenty of shorter hikes are available as well.
Along the way, you’ll run into red-bellied pademelons (the kangaroo’s Tasmanian cousins) and hordes of other scampering marsupials. As for the Tasmanian devil—well, they’re shy little guys, despite that hideous screech they make. You may not see them in the wild, not if they can help it, unless there’s a tasty dead possum to feed on.