Tasmania-God Save the Tasmanian Devil

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.