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Media Release 20080708
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Tasmanian devil sighted in Queensland
A mainland Tasmanian devil sighting has been reported from Blackbraes National Park, 320 kilometres south-west of Cairns, Queensland.
Neil Van contacted Mainland Devils to report an unusual black animal which he and a friend sighted at 9.30pm on Wednesday 2nd of July, 2008. They were travelling along the Kennedy Developmental Road near the northern boundary of Blackbraes National Park in Queensland when they saw the dark coloured animal feeding on a road-killed wallaby. Says Van, "A mate and I saw a weird animal fairly close up ... with the way it ran and looked we both looked at each other and said at the same time 'it looked like a Tassie devil.'"
The first sign which the pair saw was the animal's eyeshine as it looked up from feeding on the carcass about 50 metres in front of them. "They eyes were reflective and looked yellowy-white," said Van.
Nick Mooney, wildlife biologist with Tasmania's Parks and Wildlife Service reported to Mainland Devils that "usually Tasmanian devils don't like looking at light, but head on, Tasmanian devil eyeshine is usually red. The eyeshine can appear blue when not viewed directly head on and it can appear silver in response to a camera flash". Tasmanian devils photographed in the wild as part of a Tasmanian study on devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) reveal the silver coloured eyeshine referred to by Mooney - but also show the yellowish tinge indicated by Van.
After looking up at the pair the devil turned and ran 20 metres down the road before veering off and into long grass. One feature which stood out was "the way it ran - fairly awkwardly, a bit like a possum ... [and] it looked fairly solid in the body, unlike a cat."
When shown video footage of a captive Tasmanian devil running around a zoo enclosure, Van said "that video nails it exactly. I sent the clip to my mate and he said the same. It may sound crazy and it's a long way from Tassie but I think that is what we saw."
Van was shown photographs of other large mammals including native marsupials such as the spotted-tailed quoll, tree kangaroos, tasmanian devils and the extinct thylacine. He was also shown photographs of the introduced feral red fox having a black coat of fur and the Tasmanian devil remains the best match.
"I have spent the last 20 years pig hunting in some of the most remote areas in Australia and am used to seeing all manner of critters, but this one was a first. I just rang my mate and asked him these questions [that you have given me] and he came up with the same as me: it was bigger than a cat, jet black and had a tail. [It was] more solid than a cat and when it ran it had a strange gait - not fluid in motion like a cat but more like the back legs were moving in a similar action [to each other]; however it wasn't a slow runner."
At the suggestion of relocating the roadkill to look for further evidence, Van responded "there is so much roadkill on that road it would be impossible to find what it was eating." Although the carcass may no longer be located, if a population of Tasmanian devils resides in Blackbraes National Park they may leave behind other evidence of their existence such as footprints and hair and scats which may be analysed for devil DNA. With the Tasmanian population facing the threat of extinction due to devil facial tumour disease, any surviving mainland population - no matter what its origin - could prove crucial to the survival and genetic diversity of the species.
Dr Fred Bell who worked as a wildlife biogeographer in far north Queensland in the 1980s reported to Mainland Devils that he had been told of Aboriginal cave paintings of devils near Laura (approximately 430 kilometres north of Van's sighting) which people said couldn't be too old. Dr Bell was given the impression that cave paintings deteriorate rather rapidly in comparison to engravings and the devil paintings may have been 500 to 600 years old, but no older.
Despite contacting a number of Australian cryptozoologists and amateur naturalists, this is the first report of a living Tasmanian devil [10/7 edit: in Queensland] in modern times to come to the attention of Mainland Devils. The sighting has been reported to Queensland Parks and the ranger responding to the call confirmed he was unaware of there ever being any reports of devils in that state; he suggested a dingo puppy might be an alternative explanation.
There have been, however, both recent and older sightings of Tasmanian devils in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, New South Wales. There are also reports of devils living near Lake Albert in South Australia in the 19th century and at least 5 Tasmanian devils have been collected - dead and alive - from the wild in Victoria between 1912 and 1991.
To find out more about mainland Tasmanian devils see www.mainlanddevils.com