The Tasmanian devil
, spotted-tail quoll
and eastern quoll
are among the world's largest marsupial carnivores. These species occasionally come into conflict with landowners. The main concerns about these species are raids on livestock and their occasional presence under houses. However, there are solutions to these problems.
Problems and Solutions - Livestock
Although most landowners accept that devils seen foraging around farms are mostly scavenging for carrion, they are occasionally accused of taking livestock. The usual instances are:
- Lambing season - Although opinions are divided on whether devils will take healthy lambs we believe this is not usual. (One major problem for research is that dead or dying lambs may be so completely eaten that we have no chance of properly assessing their prior health!) Many sheep farmers who complain about devils have serious animal health problems on their property, a prime causative factor. Most landowners agree that even if lambs are taken they are usually the weaker ones, especially of twins. Intense management aimed at rescuing these lambs may be so disruptive to the flock that it is better to accept the risk of some losses of weak animals to devils. Different types of sheep have vastly different capabilities as mothers and this should be taken more into account. Direct protection may be possible; some farmers are experimenting with Italian maremma sheep dogs which remain with the flock day and night.
- Cast or very weak sheep - Devils may occasionally attack these animals. If farmers are worried about such attacks, effort should be made to prevent casting by changing shearing timing and/or paying greater attention to animal health. This problem also requires realistic judgement of the viability of such sheep - quite often, they would die anyway.
- Penned stock - If devils are common, small or sick penned animals may be at risk, especially if they cannot stand. They need to be properly penned and not just tucked in behind a few branches. Dogs may be a useful deterrent in these cases.
- Poultry - Although they are not especially good diggers and can't jump, devils are very powerful and can push through a poorly built pen. A fence that is higher than 1 m, well footed and made of palings, heavy wire mesh or corrugated iron is usually adequate. However, young devils are fair climbers and a "floppy top" or electric wire may have to be added to the outside top of a mesh fence to keep these youngsters out. One cannot reasonably expect to protect free-range poultry that have no high perches. Quolls cause no problems for sheep or lambs but can be a great nuisance to poultry. Spotted-tailed quolls are excellent jumpers and climbers and can get through surprisingly small gaps as can eastern quolls. The best protection against these persistent predators is a 1.5 m high, well-footed, paling, corrugated iron or mesh pen; the latter with a roof, "floppy-top" or electric wire. Free range poultry can be provided with protected perches, e.g. a tree with no branches within 1.5 m of the ground and a tin collar around the 1.5 m mark. Free-range poultry can also be given access to devil and quoll-proof coops.
This shed is made from tin or well fitting, vertical palings and has a footing. The idea is that chooks can reach the entrance from the perch, whereas devils and quolls cannot.
If you have concerns about wildlife, seek advice from the Department of Primary Industries and Water. Occasionally landholders may try to trap and relocate devils they don't want around their area. Not only is it illegal to do so, but it could further spread the Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). This would have a dramatic impact on local devil populations across the State - particularly in areas such as the Tasman Peninsula, where trials are underway to remove the disease from the region.
Sometimes people set poisons for devils and quolls. This is illegal, and can result in the unintended death of other wildlife, such as eagles.
Devils Around the Home
Occasionally devils take up residence and breed under houses. Nearby stock and pets are rarely harmed as most predators seem reluctant to hunt near their 'home'. And while Devil pups can be very amusing, the noise and mess may, for some, be a bit oppressive.
If you have any concerns about devils near your home, contact the Department of Primary Industries and Water on ph: 03 6165 4305
. They can give you advice, particularly about how to seal entrances under your house without putting devils at risk.
In the past, it is likely that devil and quoll populations were mainly controlled by competition for food. Both populations naturally swell dramatically each summer as the juveniles become independent, but this is a short-lived phenomenon. Up to 60 per cent will die within the first few months due to competition for food.
More recently, devil numbers have dropped dramatically following the identification of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD)
Devil and Quoll Conservation
Quolls and Tasmanian devils are wholly protected by law. Both the spotted-tail and Eastern quolls are classified as vulnerable because of declines on mainland Australia, due to foxes and habitat loss.
Indeed Eastern quolls are extinct on the mainland. Tasmanian devils are listed as vulnerable to extinction at state and national levels.
Roles and Values
Because devils and quolls are dominant carnivores they play a special role in nature. They:
- maintain bush and farm hygiene by cleaning up carcasses. This can help reduce the risk of blowfly strike to sheep by removing food for maggots.
- remove sick and weak animals helping control disease.
- reduce the chance of starvation and disease in prey populations by controlling their abundance.
- are unique and spectacular animals in their own right making them a valuable tourism and biological asset. The absence of dingoes and foxes has made Tasmania a refuge for many unique species like the devil and quolls. If we can protect these assets the value of our wildlife to the world will only increase as other places degrade.
How You Can Help
There are a variety of things you can do to help these unique animals:
- Keep Tasmania free of foxes and dingoes
- Take particular care when driving at night, dawn or dusk, especially in bush or forested areas. In some regions, roadkills can be devastating to local populations.
- Move roadkills off the road so devils and quolls don't feed in the direct path of traffic. But make your own safety the priority at all times. And never touch devils since they might be diseased, even if you can't see tumours.
- For all injured and orphaned wildlife enquiries, contact the Department of Primary Industries and Water, telephone: 03 6165 4305. Advice can also be given to those concerned about devils and quolls on their property.
- If you see an injured or sick animal, contact DPIW on the above phone number. Remember to put your own safety first. Keep off the road, especially where there is heavy traffic, and do not handle any devils you find (regardless of whether they are dead or alive). Helpful notes to make include the location of where the devil was found, its physical condition, and how it behaves.
- When developing land, leave some areas where fallen logs and wombat burrows are common. These are good breeding sites for devils and quolls.
- Prevent your cats and dogs from roaming at night. Cats compete directly with quolls for food, and some dogs kill devils and quolls
- Ensure shooters using your property leave devils and quolls alone.
Anon. (1994). Clash of the Carnivores
. (video) ABC Natural History Unit.
Green, R. H. (1993). The Mammals of Tasmania
. Potoroo Publishing, Launceston.
Strahan, R. (ed). (1995). The Mammals of Australia
. Reed Books, NSW.
Temby, I. (1992). Living with wildlife
. Department of Conservation & Environment, Victoria.
Watts, D. (1993). Tasmanian Mammals - A field guide
. Peregrine Press, Tasmania.