Tasmanian Devil Mainland

Large, carnivorous Marsupial of Australia, now confined to Tasmania and presumed extinct on the mainland since the fourteenth century.

Scientific name: Sarcophilus harrisii, given by Pierre Boitard in 1841.

Physical description: Size of a small dog. Black, with white chest patches.

Behavior: Emits a spine-chilling screech.

Distribution: Victoria; New South Wales; Western Australia.

Significant sightings: "Cambrian" recorded the presence of Tasmanian devils in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia during the first part of the nineteenth century. A colony of the animals was said to be living around Lake Albert, New South Wales, in 1896.

In 1912, a live Tasmanian devil was captured at Toobarac, Victoria. The animal's skin and skeleton were preserved in the National Museum of Victoria.

Another Tasmanian devil was found in western Victoria in 1971.

In 1991, two Tasmanian devils were discovered as roadkills, one near Bendigo, Victoria, and the other 95 miles away. The specimens were preserved by the Mammalogy Department of the Museum of Melbourne. In 1997, a female Tasmanian devil was found underneath a car in a parking lot at Balga, Western Australia, and taken to the Perth Zoo.

Present status: Tasmanian devils formerly ranged over much of eastern Australia, but most zoologists believe they disappeared before European settlement, probably ousted by Dingos (Canis familiaris var. dingo).

Possible explanation: Escapees from smugglers bringing animals illegally into other states from Tasmania.

Sources: Cambrian, "Notes on the Natural History of Australasia," Melbourne Monthly Magazine 1 (1855): 95-101, 164-169, 360-362; J. A. Kershaw, "The Tasmanian Devil in Victoria," Victorian Naturalist 29 (1912): 75-76; West Australian (Perth), January 5, 1998; Karl Shuker, "A Devil of a Mystery," Fortean Times, no. 109 (April 1998): 16; Robert Paddle, The Last Tasmanian Tiger (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 24-25; "In Search of Tassie Devils," Hobart Mercury, August 19, 2001.

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