The first step of our roadtrip on the East Coast of Tasmania consisted in a stop at the Bonorong Sanctuary, not far from Hobart. There, dedicated staff takes care of injured animals before their release into the wild. I hesitated between visiting this sanctuary and visiting the Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary. I opted for the first because I thought it would allow me to see a wider variety of animals and because I was curious about the conservation efforts undertaken to protect different endangered populations.
Needless to say I enjoyed this visit. I had a chance not only to feed kangaroos, but to actually observe their interactions. I learned more about wombats, koalas and devils as well. For example, wombats and koalas both have a hard bone plate on their bottoms.
Wombats’ plates serve as a protection against predators. In case of danger, wombats will run to a burrow and block the entrance with that plate. As they have no nerve endings in that area, they will not feel the bite. If the predator is too persistent, the wombat will lower the plate and ram it back up crushing the head of the animal that would have tried to seize this opportunity. If this fail at crushing the skull, the wombat will wait for the asphyxiation of the predator. Many settlers got caught the same way when they stuck their hands in a terrier. The wound caused often opened the way to gangrene.
Adult wombats would have been the most aggressive animal of the sanctuary. They are sweet and cuddly until the approximate age of two when they have to be released in the wild. A wombat can chew through basically anything, including doors and walls. This means that if a caregiver doesn’t release the animal in time and that the animal figures the home of its caregiver to be its territory, it could cause lots of damage trying to get back in. Finally, in Australia, it takes a special permit to care for a wombat.
Koalas are equipped with the same plate, which has a different use. A koala will use this plate in order to be able to jam its butt on a hard branch and remain there for hours without discomfort. A Koala feeds on eucalyptus, which I will grant is poisonous. However, it is untrue that koalas are high all day long from the ingestion of eucalyptus. In truth, a koala has special enzymes in its stomach that allows it to break down the eucalyptus and to neutralize the poison. A koala will be awake for about 4 hours in a day, which it will spend eating. There isn’t much to be taken from eucalyptus in terms of nutritious elements, this is why a koala’s metabolism needs to be slow in order to use as little calories as possible. The lifespan of a koala depends mostly on the region it lives in and the nutritious content of the eucalyptus trees to which it has access. The koala is not a member of the bear family, it is a marsupial just like kangaroos.
Kangaroos are marsupials, which means they have a pocket where they keep their newborns until they are grown. The presence of kangaroos near and on roads after dusk makes it relatively unsafe to drive outside the cities after sunset. Funny anecdote, a full grown kangaroo gave a little girl a real fright when he crept from behind and put his two front paws on her shoulder, hoping to get some food. All and all, he was really gentle and the situation was more comical than anything.
Finally, the Tasmanian Devil has very little resemblance to its Loony Toons’ version. The sound made by a Devil is relatively strange, the animal is quite small and is a scavenger. Supposedly a Tasmanian Devil will not eat the part of a prey that is submerged in water. It makes me wonder if there is a link between this and the myth of the vampire, which can’t cross water. I do suspect it is a myth since other sources say the devils actually like water. The specie is in danger, in big part due to a transmissible cancer-like disease that spreads quickly among the population and kills it off. Preservation efforts are being made and parks everywhere are trying to quarantine healthy populations.