Of Australia’s many marsupials, the Tasmanian devil is undoubtedly one of the most striking. Called “The Devil” by early European colonists, its wide jaws, huge teeth and blood-curdling screams earned it repute as a fierce-tempered and dangerous creature.

Although only the size of a small dog, Tasmanian devils are the largest carnivorous marsupials in the world. Their stocky build betrays a remarkable speed and endurance, and they are able to climb trees and swim fairly long distances. Their large jaws give them a powerful bite, important for their carrion diets as well as their aggressive fighting and mating rituals. Despite this, their famously frightening yawn and alarming screeches are often just displays used to minimise fighting with other devils.

Tasmanian devils once lived across mainland Australia, but changes to the landscape and ecology drove them to extinction everywhere except Tasmania. There, with a much wetter climate and fewer competitors and predators, these creatures thrived. With a diet of snakes, birds, small mammals and fish, as well as any carcasses they happen to come across, they’re remarkably adaptable and can survive in a range of ecosystems.

Unfortunately colonists saw devils as a nuisance and threat to livestock and so introduced a bounty in 1830. They may have met the same fate as the Tasmanian tiger if their persecution had continued but they became protected by law in 1941 and as a result their population slowly stabilised.

Another threat has emerged more recently that once again threatens this unique creature with extinction: Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). This disease is a rare transmissible form of cancer which arose from a mutation in a devil’s genes. Transferred through saliva when devils bite each other, it has rapidly become an epidemic which affects most of the species. Fortunately, dedicated organisations and initiatives across the state have preserved insurance populations, established captive breeding populations and improved monitoring of the disease.

Tasmanian devils are now classified as Endangered at the state, federal and international levels, and healthy populations must be protected to ensure this species’ continued survival. Many WLT sanctuaries including Tarkine Wilderness Lodge, Fiona and Stephen’s Refuge, Eagle’s Roost Farmstay, Mountain Valley, The Hill, Heywood Refuge and Hawley House provide vital habitat for devils. WLT wildlife carers at Oma and Stephen's Refuge, Wicked Wildlife Sanctuary and Base Camp Tasmania also rehabilitate injured and orphaned devils as victims of roadstrike.

Devils have shown a remarkable resilience and ability to survive so, with support from governments, conservation programs and wildlife carers (as well as fantastic sanctuaries preserving their homes) there is hope for this iconic species to recover.