In November 2015, we finally made it to Tasmania, a destination that has been on my bucket list for years. Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary is just a 30 minute drive from Hobart and provided a unique opportunity to see Tasmania's native wildlife. Bonorong looks after sick and orphaned animals to give them a better chance of survival. We signed up for the Bonorong Night Tour. The tour is pricey at $149 AUD per person but given the special nature of this trip and the fact that we may never find ourselves here again, we thought it was worth the splurge. Plus, the fee goes toward taking care of the animals at the sanctuary. I can totally get behind that! Here are nine highlights of our visit. Hat tip to Bob, our tour guide, for making the tour so memorable!
Feeding Wallaby Meat to Betty the Tasmanian Devil
We felt fortunate to see Tasmanian devils at Bonorong and have the opportunity to (carefully!) feed them. Our group walked up to the enclosure and we were introduced to Betty. Bob asked us to don gloves and then opened up an oh-so-appetizing container with a freshly killed wallaby leg inside. In turns, we grabbed hold of the leg and under Bob's careful supervision, we lowered the wallaby leg into the enclosure. Betty was soon ripping and tearing at the meat. The force behind that tiny creature was simply unbelievable! Here's a video showing what the Tasmanian devils did to their supper.
We moved on to a second enclosure where we met Prince and Bob showed us some of the behavior we might expect from male Tasmanian devils. The males will put on a show of bravery but as a larger animal, if you challenge them, they will typically back down (don't try this at home!). Bob had taken safety precautions and was wearing steel tipped boots just in case Prince was feeling extra fiesty.
Tasmanian devils are quite rare in the wild these days due to the ravaging effects of a contagious mouth cancer spreading like wildfire through the population. This cancer is one of one two contagious types known in the world (HPV is the other) and is spread by biting behavior. Tasmanian devils are pretty fierce creatures and they can bite through bone. Bob even told us that their mating rituals involve quite a bit of biting and roughness. It's no wonder the disease is spreading so rapidly.
Meeting Tina the Wombat
We reluctantly moved on from the Tasmanian Devils and were soon introduced to Tina, a 2-year old orphaned wombat. Tina's mother was killed by a car while Tina was still a joey in the pouch. She was rescued and taken to Bonorong where she will ultimately be released into the wild when she reaches adulthood.
Wombats may look small but they will do serious damage if you hit one with your car. They have a tremendously hard plate on their backside. When chased by predators, they will run into their burrow with their backside facing out. The predator can claw away at the tough plate but it really is like defensive armor and will cause the wombat no harm. Eventually, the wombat might lie down a little tempting the predator to come in over the top. It's at that point that the wombat would jam its bum upwards and potentially kill the unsuspecting predator with its butt-plate. Amazing, adorable, and smart!
Check out Tiger Snakes at a Safe Distance
According to the 'The 72 Most Dangerous Animals in Australia', a TV series with a couple episodes made available on Virgin Australia flights that I watched en route to the Whitsundays and Tasmania, tiger snakes are a formidable creature and pack a serious punch. I definitely wouldn't want to encounter one in the wild but was happy to see one at a safe distance with my 50x zoom lens.
Blue Tongued Lizards!
Next Bob took us to see the blue tongued lizards. These little fellows hide out under fallen leaves and other debris and can be quite difficult to spot. Bob had no trouble though and picked up this gorgeous skink so we could get a closer look. I'm not sure what evolutionary purpose the blue tongue holds but it looks pretty bad ass, don't you think?
Feeding Ant Paste to an Echidna
Echidnas are one of only two monotreme (egg laying mammal) species in the world. The other is the platypus. These creatures are incredibly shy but can be coaxed out of their hiding spots with a bit of ant paste. We donned gloves once again and had the once in a lifetime opportunity to feed an echidna. They have amazing sandpaper-y tongues.
Up Close and Personal with Forrester Kangaroos and Their Joeys
We also had the chance to get up close and personal with forrester kangaroos. There is a mob that lives at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. While we were waiting for our tour to begin, our guide gave us a handful of feed and we were soon very popular with the locals. Kangaroos can actually be quite intimidating in the wild. Some of the kangaroos were almost as tall as I am (and I am 5'9") and just look at the size of those sharp toes! This particular mob was habituated to humans and it was amazing to see the animals up close. This was the first time we actually saw joeys. The babies actually get quite big but still manage to squeeze into the pouch for up to a year.
Albino Possum on My Shoulder Makes Me Happy
Whenever I think back on this moment, I sing to myself "Albino possum on my shoulder makes me happy" to the tune of John Denver's Sunshine on My Shoulder. We visited an albino possum and I got to feed it some delicious citrus fruit while it sat on my shoulder. Amazing.
Meet the Tawny Frogmouths
Tawny frogmouths have about the coolest names of all the animals we met. They look like big-eyed owls but are really just stocky birds. They were truly fascinating to watch.
Caged with Sugar Gliders
Another fascinating animal on our tour was the super glider. They are tiny but can spread their arms and glide on a a large flap of skin.
We had a fantastic time seeing and learning more about Tasmania's native wildlife at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. It was worth every penny. Of course, it would be even more amazing to see these animals in the wild but many are quite rare and endangered so it's highly unlikely we'd see them in the wild and sadly, if we did, it is more likely to be as road kill than otherwise. Thanks to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary for the work they do to protect some of Tasmania and Australia's iconic (and lesser known) species.