Androo Kelly holds a juvenile wombat, a burrowing marsupial that
looks like a small bear.
The Tasmanian tiger lives only
in legend, but devils, koalas
and 'roos flourish
Text and photos © By ROBERT
HOBART, Tasmania, Australia -- Tasmanians love their tigers.
You find them all over the island -- on canvas or painted directly on the
walls of pubs, in ubiquitous cartoons or in old framed drawings or
photographs, on postcards and even on beer bottles.
This benevolent-looking marsupial -- with the pouch like a
kangaroo's, of course -- and which looks more like a dingo or a dog with stripes
painted on its back, seems to be everywhere -- everywhere, that is, except in
The Tiger Bar pub at Mole Creek is a favorite
watering hole for
those in search of the
Tasmanian tiger. "Devil man" Androo
can be found at the nearby wildlife park.
Officially, the last known Tasmanian tiger died in captivity
back in 1937, leaving only a few fading photos plus some stuffed hides around,
including one sad-looking fellow here in Hobart, behind glass in the local
museum. Museums in Washington and Milwaukee reportedly have a stuffed Tassie
tiger, too, which was not really a tiger at all, related neither to a cat nor
Tasmania looks small when compared with the massive island
continent of Australia. Nevertheless, this island state measures some 24,000
square miles, about the size of West Virginia (or six times the size of the
Big Island of Hawaii). Tasmanians point out that there are still thousands of
acres of rugged, nearly impenetrable forests and other genuine unexplored
territory on the island -- nearly a third of the island. And so ... well ...
who can say if there are still a few shy and elusive Tasmanian tigers around?
Reported sightings of the animal have continued frequently
over the past 65 years. The Tasmanian Museum in Hobart says it gets such a
report about once a month. Despite this and several fruitless expeditions into
the hinterland, no one has yet been able to come up with a live specimen or
even a new photo.
Meanwhile, wildlife devotees who visit Tasmania are
generally satisfied with scores of other curious creatures, including
significant populations of kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, pademelons and other
marsupials, a list led off by a very much alive though dark and furtive
creature saddled with an unfortunate name, the Tasmanian devil.
Mom gives a young 'roo a drink. Kangaroos have short forelegs and
big hind legs. Females have pouches for their young.
Farmers who have seen their chicken flocks come out
second-best with night-adventuring Tasmanian devils are no more in sympathy
with these black-velvet marauders than were their grandfathers who contributed
to the apparent extinction of the Tasmanian tiger.
Today, however, the tigers (whether dead or alive), along
with other warm-and-fuzzies that hop and lope around Tasmania, are recognized
as valuable tourist attractions. Like those supposedly fierce little devils,
many are genuinely Tasmanian and are not endemic to the Australian mainland.
Travelers can meet a genuine devils' advocate at the
Trowunna Wildlife Park outside the tiny village of Mole Creek. Here, Androo
Kelly (who changed the spelling of his first name) loves anything that hops,
flies or crawls through life, and he has often served as a consultant to zoos
in Australia and the United States. He swears he's known internationally as
"the devil man."
Some years ago, Androo's park in Tasmania was the
headquarters for a last, determined attempt to track down and capture at least
one more live Tassie tiger, and you may get the impression that Androo, for
one, has not really admitted ultimate defeat.
There are a half-dozen wildlife parks around Tasmania, but
Androo's is dedicated principally to raising orphaned or injured creatures.
One area is a sort of "retirement home" for old devils, and here, Androo
enters and pets two docile senior residents, Moriarty and Eumarrah. Both can
look fearsome, especially when the sun shines behind their ears, turning them
"Treated nicely, these are not fierce creatures," he said.
"The trouble is that many farmers keep chicken wire around their birds.
Chicken wire is fine for keeping chickens in, but not for keeping the devils
out. Properly fenced, however, their chickens can be safe from these blokes."
He does admit, however, that devils make an ear-splitting
and rather frightening ruckus when they meet each other on the road.
"That's just their way of saying 'Hi! How are ya!'" growled
Androo loudly, almost in imitation of the devilish sound.
Although wildlife parks are convenient for getting to know
creatures of the bush, it is not the only way. Almost any place in Tasmania,
one may come face to face with animals once thought by 18th-century Europe to
be figments of the imagination of early explorers in Australia.
Early morning or late evening walkers in the open
countryside or perhaps among the trees and bushes in massive reserves like
Cradle Mountain National Park are often blessed with guest appearances of
The night-venturing Tasmanian devil, with its black body and
bright red ears, keeps chicken farmers on their toes.
Birds unknown in North America are seen and heard at any
time of day. Morning often brings some special music in Tasmania, as elsewhere
in the Australian bush. The common Australian magpie seems to trill with a
thousand different grace notes. And the kookaburra, known throughout Australia
as the "laughing jackass," has a loud and unmistakable vocal solo that seems
to go on forever.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the bird life in Tasmania,
though, are the diminutive fairy penguins, probably seen best on Bruny Island,
not far from Hobart. After a day of fishing, these little fellows return home
just after dark to feed their offspring patiently waiting in tiny burrows.
Those who make a concerted effort, and who stand still and
quiet enough to watch the process, can witness this "penguin parade." Bright
lights, including camera flashes, disorient the birds. But travelers who bring
flashlights with red filters taped over the lens can easily and safely spot
these devoted feathered family members as they waddle home from the sea.
Unfortunately, fairy penguins are often threatened by oil
dumped from ships at sea. When this seems about to threaten the feathered
population, however, wildlife experts are ready to jump into action when
needed, quickly dressing them up in little sweaters (called "jumpers"), which
have been knitted for this purpose by senior citizens throughout the world who
have heard of the project.
The jumpers soak up the oil, keep the birds warm and prevent
them from preening themselves and being poisoned by the oil.
Reportedly, the birds don't particularly like their knitted
outfits, but they have saved the lives of thousands of the little creatures in
Within Australia, Tasmania has a reputation more for good
food than for its wildlife. The state's cooler, more southern latitudes result
in high-quality fruits and veggies, and promoters point out that many of the
country's best chefs are attracted to the island to work their magic.
Award-winning wines have begun to be produced here, too.
The population, which sometimes calls itself Taswegian,
feels itself a very separate entity from Australia as a whole: "You mean the
north island?" they may joke good-naturedly. Actually, Hobart and Launceston
are the second- and third-oldest cities in the country, after Sydney, and some
of the most interesting and luxurious Victorian architecture reflects the gold
discovery periods. Gold is still mined in Tasmania, and one mine has also
become a tourist attraction.
But for many travelers, tigers (real or imagined), devils
and their various pouched cousins will probably remain indefinitely to
distinguish the island state of Tasmania.
IF YOU GO
Most international travelers to Tasmania fly via Qantas'
domestic service from Melbourne, either to the city of Launceston (one hour)
or to the capital, Hobart (1 1/2 hours). Qantas' telephone in North America is
800-227-4500, Web site: www.qantas.com/us.
Additional information on Tasmania can be obtained from the
Australian Tourist Commission in the United States, toll-free telephone
800-333-0262. Ask for the free Australian Vacation Planner. For a referral to
an Australian specialist travel agent, call 800-333-4305. The ATC's Web site
is at www.australia.com. Tourism Tasmania maintains a detailed Web site at
Package tours to Tasmania and other Australian areas are
also available from Qantas Vacations, 800-268-7525, Web site: