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A Visit to Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary: Tasmanian Devils, Wombats and Quolls

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Nan spent two months exploring Tasmania with nothing but her car and a teardrop caravan.

Spotted Tail Quoll at Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary

Spotted Tail Quoll at Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary

When visiting Tasmania, I was fortunate enough to encounter some of its native animals in the wild. Brushtail possums came cheekily down from trees to take food that my dogs had left uneaten in their bowls. A bandicoot stole into the corner of my campsite to nibble on dog biscuits. At one caravan park, wallabies, known colloquially as pademelons roamed the grounds from dusk till dawn.

I stopped at the roadside to view an echidna at closer range as it meandered along the verge, then curled into a spiny ball at my approach. Last, but by no means least, a platypus came out to hunt for food in the creek which meandered through a campsite where I was staying. It drew a whispering, awestruck crowd who stood quietly pointing and gazing.

But although I had heard a Tasmanian Devil, and possibly caught a glimpse of one disappearing into the bush, these iconic creatures had largely eluded me. As had wombats and quolls. To rectify these omissions, I decided to visit Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary, where I would be certain to get close-up views and possibly even the chance to stroke some of these animals.

Map Showing Launceston, Deloraine and Mole Creek

Map Showing Launceston, Deloraine and Mole Creek

Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary

Trowunna is in Mole Creek, near Deloraine, and a little over 50 kilometres from Launceston. It occupies 65 acres of privately owned land, most of which has natural vegetation, and was established in 1979.

The sanctuary is involved with several breeding programmes for endangered species and offers rehabilitation facilities for injured or orphaned animals, as well as a safe refuge for animals which cannot be released into the wild. Some species are free-ranging, while others are kept in enclosures which mimic their natural habitat.

I meandered for a while before joining one of the tours which are offered three times per day, and which I found interesting and informative.

Tasmanian Devils in Enclosure

Tasmanian Devils in Enclosure

Tasmanian Devils

Tasmanian Devils are only found naturally in Tasmania although evidence shows they previously inhabited mainland Australia. They are classified as endangered due to the emergence of Devil Facial Tumour Disease which has killed 80 percent of the wild population. The disease is a contagious form of cancer that is transmitted when the animals bite each other, which they do frequently when feeding or mating.

Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary had been breeding Tasmanian Devils successfully prior to the establishment of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Programme. This programme was implemented in 2003 to produce healthy animals in captivity as an insurance policy against the spread of DFTD in wild populations. Some captive-bred animals have been released on Maria Island off the coast of Tasmania which is free of the disease as it did not previously have a resident Devil population.

Although iconic, I do not find Tasmanian Devils the most endearing of creatures; however, I strongly support moves to ensure their survival. They were named ‘devils’ because their faces turn red and their ears glow when they are agitated and when fighting, making them appear demonic. They fight amongst each other and make quite horrible growling and screaming sounds when fighting, under threat and feeding communally.

Devils are carnivorous, but are not as predatory as was initially supposed. Rather, they are scavengers and devour animals that are already dead (and sometimes quite rotten), although they also prey on small, weak, or injured animals. Interestingly, it has recently been discovered that Tasmanian Devils, along with several other marsupial species are bioluminescent—they glow under UV light.

Baby Tasmanian Devil

Baby Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devils produce about 40 very tiny young (about the size of a grain of rice) after a 21-day gestation period. Only four teats are available to feed offspring, so only those who make their way to the pouch first have any chance of survival. The babies remain in the pouch for about 4 months before starting to venture out and are weaned at around 9 months of age. They reach reproductive age after 2 years.

There are several large, open-air enclosures at Trowunna designed to mimic the natural habitat of Tasmanian Devils. The animals are free to roam throughout these and have pools of water in which they can swim or paddle at leisure.

Although Devils are largely nocturnal, they were quite active on the day I visited the sanctuary. I enjoyed watching them roam and interact with each other and found the tour guide’s talk educational and informative.

Wombat at Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary

Wombat at Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary

Wombats

Wombats are cute. These trundling, sturdy animals live in burrows beneath the ground which they dig with their strong front legs and claws. At Trowunna, most wombats are temporary residents who arrive after being orphaned. They are cared for and raised by the keepers until they can be released.

At the time of my visit, only one wombat was in residence, a juvenile female who had been raised there from an early age. She clung to her keeper affectionately as he lifted her from her enclosure to be seen and patted.

Tasmanian wombats are smaller than their mainland relatives, reaching only 85 cm in length and 20 kg at maturity. They have extremely strong back legs and a band of strong plating above their hindquarters. When in their nests, they rest with their hind area toward the entrance. Intruders are met with a backwards and upwards kick strong enough to break bones.

Wombats are herbivorous and largely nocturnal. They forage over wide areas for food, which includes native grasses, shrubs, roots, bark, and mosses.

Baby Wombat

Baby Wombat

Wombats produce one joey after a 30-day gestation period. Joeys remain in their mother’s backward-facing pouch for six months. After this, they begin to venture out to forage for gradually longer periods although they are reliant on their mother’s milk until about 15 months. They remain with their mother until they are about 18 months of age.

Rearing orphaned joeys is a lengthy, time-consuming process and very much a labour of love. If they are orphaned when entirely reliant on their mother for milk and warmth, it is important to create an environment that mimics the pouch. There are specially formulated milk products which can be used as a replacement food.

Joeys need regular and frequent feeds—around the clock. Between feeds, they need to be kept warm and secure with minimal stress. And they need to be toileted.

Rehabilitation into the wild is a lengthy process with animals initially given a soft release where they can be monitored from a distance to ensure they are able to survive without human intervention.

Eastern Quolls

Eastern Quolls

Quolls

Two species of quoll are found naturally in Tasmania—the Eastern Quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus) and the Spotted Tail Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus). Both species were once found in the Eastern States of mainland Australia, but Spotted Tail Quolls are now rare and Eastern Quolls are considered to be extinct on the mainland.

Quolls are carnivorous marsupials, with the Spotted Tail Quoll being the second-largest surviving carnivorous marsupial (the Tasmanian Devil is the largest) in the world. Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary breeds quolls in captivity for release into the wild to repopulate natural habitats. Spotted Tail Quolls are considered vulnerable, while Eastern Quolls are classified as an endangered species.

Female Quolls give birth to as many as six young after 21 days gestation. As with other marsupial species, the young live entirely in the mother’s pouch initially. After about 10 weeks, they are left in secluded, grassy dens while the mother goes out to hunt or scavenge for food. Young quolls are weaned at about 20 weeks of age and gradually become more independent. They are ready to breed by the time they are 12 months old.

Spotted Tail Quolls are larger than Eastern Quolls and can weigh up to 4 kg while Eastern Quolls weigh only about 1.3kg, the latter being about the size of a small domestic cat. Quolls are agile hunters (usually preying on small mammals or insects) as well as scavengers (eating a range of carrion). They are mostly solitary and nocturnal. The Quolls at the Sanctuary are housed in large cages furnished with natural habitats.

Watercourse in Tasmania

Watercourse in Tasmania

The emphasis at Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary is on conservation and preservation of Tasmania’s wildlife. Animals of many species are broughht to the sanctuary where they are free to roam within its safe boundaries.

What to Do If You Hit an Animal in Australia

Many native animals are hit by cars in Australia as they attempt to cross the road or highway. It’s important that motorists stop after hitting an animal for several reasons.

  • If the animal is female, carefully check the pouch—joeys frequently survive a car strike but will die rapidly if not given appropriate care.
  • Seek medical attention from a nearby vet or animal hospital, or contact a local wildlife rescue organisation.
  • If the animal is not dead but is seriously injured and in need of euthanasia, contact the local police.
  • Carefully remove the animal from the roadway so it is not a hazard to other motorists or to animals who decide to investigate.

For more information on what to do if you hit an animal while driving in Australia, here is a helpful article from Smith's Lawyers.

© 2021 Nan Hewitt

Comments

Nan Hewitt (author) from Albany, Western Australia on March 25, 2021:

Thanks Liz. Tasmania is a very beautiful and unique place. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.

Liz Westwood from UK on March 25, 2021:

This is a fascinating and well-illustrated account of your travels. The wildlife looks very interesting in Tasmania.

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