Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Friend of the Devil is a Friend of Mine

The drive from Lauceston to Freycinet National Park on the east coast follows a harrowingly narrow, shoulderless national highway. En route the landscape turns from dry parched-yellow savannah to green pastures and with forest cover on the hills. The road corkscrewed across Elephant Pass with mist enshrouding the eucalypt trees and ferns as though we were in Middle Earth. On the coast we visit East Coast Natureworld and have the pleasure of meeting one of the rare people who are making a difference, Bruce Englefield, the owner. The preserve is a large rambling place where kangaroos bounce, pelicans and black swans float on the lagoon, and wombats, tiger snakes, koalas, emus and, most importantly, Tasmanian Devils live in large enclosures. The aviary is alive with the brilliant foliage of technicolour parakeets. My dearest and I spent the afternoon meeting animals and birds wholly strange to our home country.
Englefield is about 70, thin and tall, and his bespectacled face is alive with enthusiasm as he describes the plight of the Devil, who only live in Tasmania. Over 60% have been wiped out by the facial tumour disease, a rare cancer that is transmitted by biting. Given the lack of success in finding solutions to human cancer, the outlook for Devils is not good. We watched as Englefield, an animal behaviour expert, placed a large male Devil in a pen with a female in heat. An ear-splitting screeching and growling ensue, but Englefield ensured us it’s only part of the mating game. He then climbed into a neighbouring pen and pulled a young Devil from a tree by her tail and firmly held her while he spoke soothingly to calm her. He explained how here and at a near-by island he is breeding Devils for a tumour-free "insurance" population. We wished him luck and drove on.
For information: DiscoverTasmania.com & www.natureworld.com.au
& www.tasmaniandevilpark.com

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