A little hand eagerly reaches out to stroke the charcoal-black fur of a Tasmanian devil. When you pat these little creatures, it is hard to believe they are the same animals that look so vicious when they feed and have play-fights with their mates. A moment ago, the kids were watching in horrified fascination as the devils tore at an animal carcass with their sharp teeth. But this one is soft and cuddly, and curled up in the ranger’s arms like a kitten.
■ The wild animals living around the park. As soon as you step out of your car, start to watch out for wombats and other animals that might be ambling around, especially if you come for the night tour.
■ The other carnivorous marsupials on display: the eastern quoll and spotted-tail quoll.
■ The guided tours on offer. The guides give an informative talk about the devils’ life cycle, problems and threats, but best of all you usually get to pat one of these animals. Day tours are cheaper, but in the night feeding tours the animals are more active.
■ The hidden, automatic cameras on the outskirts of the park used to monitor wild devils. The cameras are enclosed in plastic containers, painted in camouflage colours and mounted on wooden posts. Every day, the noise of the captive devils feeding attracts other devils to come in from the wild. Park rangers leave titbits for them near the cameras – not enough to stop the devils foraging for themselves, but to delay them in order to photograph them. Devil Facial Tumour Disease is rapidly killing off devils in the wild and these cameras help the rangers monitor their health.
Tasmanian devils often feed on road kill. When they eat, they gorge themselves until their tummies are so swollen they can only waddle. Because they are carnivorous, they give the impression of being bold, but they are actually very timid. When you walk in the bush, devils will keep out of sight, but you can watch for signs that they are around. Their greyish droppings can be easily differentiated from those of herbivorous Australian animals, such as wallabies and wombats, because they contain bits of bones or fur!
■ Devils@Cradle is located about 500 metres from the entrance to Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park.
■ Feeding time can be a bit gruesome as the devils are fed a recognisable animal carcass, not just pieces of meat.
■ Be aware it can snow here in winter and the area remains extremely cold into spring. Rug up warmly, especially if you are doing the night feeding tour.
■ The visitors centre has a number of educational displays and allows you the convenience of viewing a devils’ den from the warmth and comfort of indoors. You can also view them from the sheltered outdoor viewing deck.
■ Not only are the devils’ enclosures as close to a wild setting as possible, but the whole park is largely undeveloped, blending into the surrounding forests and grasslands and providing important alpine habitat for wild Tasmanian devils and other native marsupials.
■ Day tours run hourly. If you want to do the night feeding tour, it is a good idea to book ahead, especially in busier months.
■ During daylight saving time, the night feeding tour takes place while it is still light, which makes it easy to view the other animals in their enclosures.
■ The park runs an important breeding program for the endangered Tasmanian devils.