The Evidence For Mainland Devils


See also: Mainland sightings

Table of Contents
  • The Evidence For Mainland Devils
  • 1855 - Numerous devils - NSW, Vic, SA
  • 1867 - Two devils escape - SA
  • 1873 or 1874 - Devil captured - SA
  • 1896 - A colony - SA or NSW
  • 1903 - Devil collected - Vic
  • pre 1912 - Skeletal material - Vic
  • 1912 - Devil sighted - Vic
  • 1912 - Devil killed, preserved - Vic
  • pre 1916 - Devil captured - Vic
  • 1939 - Devil escapes zoo, Ballarat - Vic
  • 1971 - Devil captured alive, later preserved - Vic
  • 1974 - Devil preserved - Vic
  • pre 1991 - Devil - Vic
  • 1991 - Devil roadkill, preserved - Vic
  • 1991 - Devil roadkill, preserved - Vic
  • 1991 - Footprints - Vic
  • 1997 - Devil - WA
  • 2009 - Devil roadkill - Vic
  • undated - Footprints - Vic
  • Missing data
  • Summary
  • References
  • Note

  • The Evidence For Mainland Devils

    A number of Tasmanian devils have been collected from Victoria on Australia's mainland between 1912 and 1991 (see the photo of two mainland Tasmanian devil specimens). There are additional - earlier - sighting reports and physical evidence (in the form of skeletal material) for mainland devils also.

    To date we have managed to locate a number of sources of information regarding these mainland devils - and whilst they are in agreement as to the fact devils have been found in Victoria, there remains some ambiguity in regards to dates and locations.

    All mainland devil sightings and specimen collections that we are aware of, are described below in chronological order.

    1855 - Numerous devils - NSW, Vic, SA

    Paddle, 2000 citing Cambrian, 1855

    Robert Paddle, in his book "The Last Tasmanian Tiger" makes reference to Victorian naturalist Cambrian who recorded that he was familiar with both live and dead specimens from these states. However he found them to be rare in South Australia at least, saying that "during the whole of our stay in South Australia we only saw two" (Paddle, 2000 citing Cambrian, 1855).

    Eberhart, 2002 citing Cambrian, 1855

    George M Eberhart also cites Cambrian regarding "the presence of Tasmanian devils in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia during the first part of the nineteenth century" (in "Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, Volume 1", p537).

    Eberhart's references are: Cambrian, "Notes on the Natural History of Australiasia," Melbourne Monthly magazine 1 (1855): 95-101, 164-169, 360-362;

    1867 - Two devils escape - SA

    Schomburgk, 1874

    An article in The Argus of 18 July 1874 quotes various portions of an annual report prepared by Dr Schomburgk (director of the botanical-gardens at Adelaide, S.A.) for the year 1874.

    It notes that "in 1867 two Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus ursinus) escaped from the garden. One was shortly afterwards seen in one of the gardens in Glen Osmond, but after that nothing more was heard till the other day, Mr. Schocroft, of Mount Lofty, informed me that he had caught a very curious animal in a trap, never before seen by him or the neighbours in that locality, which he would present to the garden. I was not a little surprised to find that it was a Tasmanian devil, and no doubt one of the deserters from the garden, which had lived six years in the neighbourhood of Mount Lofty."

    Two things should be noted: the sixth year from 1867 is 1873. Schomburgk notes "the other day" (regarding his report on the year of 1874 - which was published in July of that year) he was informed of this devil capture, which would make it 1874, and 7 years. Alternatively, the report was prepared some time (at least seven months) before publication in the Argus.

    Secondly, the Tasmanian devil's lifespan is about 6 to 8 years. For an original escapee of 1867 to be recaptured in 1874, or even 1873, it would have to have been a very young devil that escaped, then very old when recaptured. The possibility remains that the escaped devils were of different genders and the captured devil was an offspring.

    1873 or 1874 - Devil captured - SA

    See "1867 - Two devils escape - SA" (above).

    1896 - A colony - SA or NSW

    Paddle, 2000

    Paddle brings another early record of mainland devils to light stating: "In a nature column in 1896 the Adelaide Observer noted that 'a colony of Tasmanian bears' was still living around Lake Albert (28 November 1896)."

    Given the publication relates to South Australia's capital city, it is likely "Lake Albert" refers to the lake of that name in South Australia. However, Eberhart (see below) specifies "Lake Albert, New South Wales" (which does exist). Eberhart cites Cambrian and Kershaw, as does Paddle, but Eberhart also cites Paddle. Further, Eberhart misspells "Tooborac" as "Toobarac", though this does not necessarily mean any other of his information is incorrect.

    Eberhart, 2002

    In "Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, Volume 1", Eberhart notes "A colony of the animals [ie. Tasmanian devils] was said to be living around Lake Albert, New South Wales, in 1896" (p537). This is in contrast to Paddle indicating Lake Albert, South Australia (cf. above).

    1903 - Devil collected - Vic

    One World Wildlife, undated

    One World Wildlife claims "five carcasses, all road casualties" in its summary on research being conducted in Victoria, searching for devil scats (doppings).

    [As an aside note, I - Chris - did not receive any reply from an emailed enquiry sent in about 2005/6, nor again in 2007 regarding the currency of the One World Wildlife project]

    The site also presents a "distribution [map] of Tasmanian devil road casualties in the mainland state of Victoria" which lists six separate dates for the collection of Victorian devils, contradicting the project's summary page.

    One specimen appearing on the map is for 1903, from Melbourne.

    To date we have not found any corroborating evidence for this claim. Whilst this alone is not unique, One World Wildlife also provides no reference. One possible explanation for this date is that it refers to at least some of the skeletal material described in 1912 by Kershaw (see below) - although the date itself remains arbitrary in this context.

    pre 1912 - Skeletal material - Vic

    Paddle, 2000 citing Kershaw, 1912

    Paddle also notes that Kershaw reported Tasmanian devil skeletal material from 3 localities which was "so recent [the bones] might easily have belonged to an animal which lived but a few years ago". He adds that the material was collected from the surface of the land and was unassociated with Aboriginal kitchen middens (Paddle, 2000 citing Kershaw, 1912).

    Kershaw, 1912

    Further research into Kershaw's article titled "Tasmanian Devil in Victoria" from the Victorian Naturalist journal? yields additional information which indicates that devil remains were found in five locations (Kershaw 1912):

    Chapman, 1919

    F. Chapman (Assoc. Linn. Soc. Lond.) refers notes "it is a significant fact that some of the bones and skulls of the Tasmanian Devil, found in sub-recent deposits in Victoria, as at Queenscliff and Warrnambool, are so fresh that the bones have not yet lost their animal matter, as would be the case with those long buried. ... the fossil bones just referred to indicate a very slight antiquity."

    Chapman also notes the article by Kershaw (who was then curator of the National Museum) is to be found "in the September number of the "Victorian Naturalist" for 1913"

    1912 - Devil sighted - Vic

    Kershaw, 1912

    Kershaw also mentions that "a member [of the Field Naturalists Club] stated that he had seen an animal in the Werribee Gorge, near Bacchus Marsh, which he thought could only be a Tasmanian Devil. Little weight was attached to his statement at the time" (Kershaw, 1912).

    This observation was published in the Victorian Naturalist journal in September 1912 and refers to the information coming to light at "a recent meeting" of the Field Naturalists Club. It is possible this sighting occurred in 1911 or earlier.

    Chapman, 1919

    1912 - Devil killed, preserved - Vic

    Paddle, 2000 citing Kershaw, 1912

    Paddle (2000, citing Kershaw, 1912) notes that "in 1912 a live Tasmanian devil was captured at Tooborac in Victoria, and described in scientific publication by the curator of zoological collections at the National Museum of Victoria" [now Museum Victoria].

    One World Wildlife, undated

    In contrast, One World Wildlife (undated) lists all mainland devil specimens as being "carcasses, all road casualties", including the 1912 specimen.

    Kershaw, 1912

    Kershaw provides the clarification: "an animal was sent to the National Museum a few days ago, which was at once recognised as a full grown female Tasmanian devil. It was killed at Tooborac, beyond Kilmore, about 63 miles from Melbourne.

    "Mr W.E. Prince, who forwarded the animal says:- 'It was got by Mr Thomas Mason whilst wood-cutting. His dog smelt it out and attracted his attention by repeatedly barking. Upon cutting open the log, he secured the specimen.

    "The question now to be determined is whether this is an introduced specimen escaped from confinement or a survivor of the Devils which we know existed at no distant period in Victoria" (Kershaw, 1912).

    OZCAM, 2007

    The Online Zoological Collections of Australian Museums (OZCAM) database "KE EMu" (KE Software Electronic Museum) reports 5 devil "specimens" residing in the Museum Victoria Mammology Collection including an undated specimen from Tooborac with the following attributes:

    Hynes and Rehberg, 2007

    The Tooborac specimen is one of the two examined by Debbie Hynes of this project. It is the smaller of the two specimens appearing in the photo attached to our media release of 2 August 2007.

    pre 1916 - Devil captured - Vic

    The Argus, 17 Nov 1916

    In a column titled "Nature Notes and Queries", a question by Mr T Dunbabin is answered by columnist Donald Macdonald as follows:

    "It is generally supposed," writes Mr. T. Dunbabin, "that the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus) is, like the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus), confined to Tasmania. The Victorian Year Book for 1914-1915 states that a specimen was recently captured in Victoria in forests to the north of Kilmore. Is there any record of this animal having been found in Australia?"

    There is no record, I think, of either the Tasmanian "devil" or "marsupial tiger" being found alive or even in fossil indications on the mainland, consequently the discovery of one specimen, which even if absolutely identified may possibly have escaped from captivity, could hardly be accepted as evidence.

    Essentially this evidence is a letter to the newspaper which claims the Victorian Year Book of 1914-1915 made reference to a recently captured Tasmanian devil north of Kilmore, Victoria. Presumably the animal was captured sometime during 1914 or 1915 in order to appear in that edition of the book, although this is not definite.

    A quick scan of this webpage shows there were up to 3 sightings, 2 captures and collection of fossil material from 5 locations prior to 1914.

    1939 - Devil escapes zoo, Ballarat - Vic

    The Argus, Monday 13 February 1939

    A short note in the Argus reads:

    "TASMANIAN DEVIL ESCAPES

    BALLARAT, Sunday

    Unavailing search was made in the week-end for the Tasmanian devil which made its escape from its cage at the Ballarat Zoological Gardens earlier in the week" (p 7).

    1971 - Devil captured alive, later preserved - Vic

    One World Wildlife, undated

    One World Wildlife (undated) refers to a 1971 specimen originating in Ballarat.

    OZCAM, 2007

    The OZCAM databases report 5 devil "specimens" residing in the Museum Victoria Mammology Collection. A close inspection of the data seems to imply that three of these "specimens" are derived from a single animal, hence our usage of quotation marks for the term "specimen".

    In particular, specimens receive a catalogue number but also record a "previous catalogue number".

    Three records relate to 1971:

    The obvious conclusion (from the previous catalogue numbers, dates and locations) is that the three specimens from 1971 originated with a single animal.

    Ballarat Courier, 1971

    The Dereel devil made front-page news on 25 May 1971 not only because Tasmanian devils were considered "rare" on the mainland, but because this one was captured by an eight year old boy. Ian Tantau found the devil in one of his rabbit traps and is pictured prominently with the devil being held down on a table in front of him by a second person who is out-of-frame. The article notes "the Devil Ian found ... seems tame and is thought to have escaped from a private owner". The photo caption notes "The animal is tame enough to handle" Arguably incorrectly the article states that "none has been found on the Australian mainland before" although a journalist reporting such a rare wildlife event could be forgiven for the mistake.

    Hynes and Rehberg, 2007

    The Dereel specimen also appears in the photo attached to our media release of 2 August 2007. It is the larger animal.

    1974 - Devil preserved - Vic

    One World Wildlife, undated

    One World Wildlife (undated) refers to a 1974 specimen originating in Ballarat.

    pre 1991 - Devil - Vic

    The Maryborough District Advertiser featured an article on the 1991 devil collected at Harcourt (see below). Interestingly the article suggests the 1991 specimen was the second collected from the Harcourt area. However, it is difficult to match this scenario with the remaining available data. Along with One World Wildlife's 1903 record, the pre 1991 Harcourt specimen remains an uncorroborated claim at this stage.

    1991 - Devil roadkill, preserved - Vic

    One World Wildlife, undated

    One World Wildlife (undated) refers to a 1991 specimen originating in Yellingbo.

    Paddle, 2000

    Paddle noted two roadkill specimens in 1991 originating 150 km apart.

    1991 - Devil roadkill, preserved - Vic

    OZCAM, 2007

    The OZCAM data included information about a third devil collected in Victoria:

    One World Wildlife, undated

    One World Wildlife (undated) refers to a second 1991 specimen which originated in Harcourt, Vic. Examining a map of the area shows Harcourt and Faraday to be less than 10 km apart. In contrast, Yellingbo (see above) is over 140km from either Faraday or Harcourt.

    Paddle, 2000

    Paddle noted two roadkill specimens in 1991 originating 150 km apart. It can be seen that the Yellingbo and Harcourt (listed under "Farady" by OZCAM) specimens described by One World Wildlife match the description provided by Paddle.

    Maryborough District Advertiser, 1991

    On 5 April 1991 the Maryborough District Advertiser ran a prominent article on the body of a devil discovered near Harcourt which includes a large photograph of Department of Conservation and Environment fisheries and wildlife officer Ian McRae? holding the specimen.

    The photo caption mentions this as being the second devil killed in the Harcourt region and the first of two killed on Victorian roads in that week. (See also the "Missing data" section, below).

    1991 - Footprints - Vic

    One World Wildlife, undated

    In addition to the road-killed specimen collected at Harcourt in 1991, One World Wildlife records footprints from the same location.

    1997 - Devil - WA

    See our Balga devil photo and report

    Eberhart, 2002

    Volume 1 of the two volume set "Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology" by George M Eberhart notes "In 1997, a female Tasmanian devil was found underneath a car in a parking lot at Balga, Western Australia, and taken to Perth Zoo" (p 537).

    There is no further information in the section on Tasmanian devils in this publication which is specific to this specimen. However, a section on "possible explanations" (for all evidence) suggests "Escapees from smugglers bringing animals illegally into other states from Tasmania".

    This suggestion is not so far fetched. Australian wildlife regularly features in the news as smugglers attempt to breach borders.

    Eberhart's references include "West Australian (Perth), January 5, 1998"

    West Australian (Perth), The, 25 July 1997

    The original article follows:

    AFTER spending 30 minutes chasing the possum she was sent to catch, Penny Anderson thought it was a little devil - and it was.
    A tasmanian devil.
    Mrs Anderson, a wildlife carer with the Fauna Rehabilitation Foundation, was sent to Balga on Tuesday to catch a possum.
    "By the description I was given, I was certain it was going to be a possum," she said.

    "But when I saw it I knew straight away what it was, it was a tasmanian devil."
    The three-year-old animal was spotted under a parked car.
    Usually found only in Tasmania, it is a mystery as to how the creature found its way to Balga.

    None of WA's 16 registered licensees of tasmanian devils have lost any animals.
    The Department of Conservation and Land Management suspects the 5.8kg devil may have been imported illegally and kept as a pet before escaping.
    CALM spokesman Darren Graham said it was lucky no one was hurt because tasmanian devils were vicious. Their teeth were sharp enough to sever a hand.
    The animal is now being cared for at Perth Zoo.
    The zoo's director of conservation, Colin Hyde, said a new enclosure would be built for the devil and she could be on show in a few months.
    "This is good timing because we have been looking for a devil for some months," he said.

    The photo caption read: Zoo keeper John Arlidge with the tasmanian devil found under a car. PICTURE: DIONE DAVIDSON

    2009 - Devil roadkill - Vic

    See our Grantville devil photo and report

    A Tasmanian devil was found as roadkill near Grantville, Victoria, on 26 March 2009.

    Newspaper "The Weekly Times" contacted nearby Maru Koala Park which confirmed the male devil had escaped the wildlife park just two weeks prior.

    undated - Footprints - Vic

    One World Wildlife, undated

    Finally, One World Wildlife also records footprints from Healesville.

    Missing data

    Paddle noted the 1912 Tooborac specimen, then "four more" catalogued with the Museum of Melbourne (now Museum Victoria). However, the OZCAM data for Museum Victoria indicates only 3 devils in total, even though one of these animals was itself divided into three specimens (skull, skeleton, skin) yielding a total of five specimens.

    On first inspection it would seem that Paddle has mistaken the five museum specimens for five animals. However, he explicitly listed two animals from different localities in 1991; OZCAM also lists two additional animals apart from the 1912 specimen - but only a single animal from 1991 and the other being from 1971.

    Paddle's second 1991 animal is backed up by One World Wildlife and One World Wildlife also lists an animal from 1974.

    We have been led to believe from an independent source, that the OZCAM database presents only data for which there are definite geographical coordinates. Specifically, at least one additional devil was mentioned with its geographical origin being no more specific than simply "Victoria".

    In all liklihood the 1974 and the second 1991 dates provided by One World Wildlife are correct but these specimens do not show on the OZCAM databases due to lack of geographical data. This scenario is consistent with Paddle's description of Museum Victoria having five (devil) animals in total although we have not yet confirmed the 1974 and 1991 records first-hand.

    The Maryborough District Advertiser notes the 1991 Harcourt specimen as the second roadkill on Victorian roads within a week. This supports the scenario of two 1991 specimens and I (Chris) believe I had heard previously they were killed 3 days apart - although that refrence escapes me at time of writing.

    Being described as the second devil from the Harcourt region is also interesting as none of the other data here corroborates this claim. Was the 1974 specimen described by One World Wildlife as originating near "Ballarat" really collected 80 km further north-east near Harcourt? Is the 1991 OZCAM devil from Farady really the same specimen as described by One World Wildlife and the Maryborough District Advertiser as originating at Harcourt?

    At time of writing, only the page depicting the photo and caption were available for assessment.

    Summary

    Year State Qty Description
    1855 NSW numerous live and/or dead devils examined by naturalist
    1855 Vic numerous live and/or dead devils examined by naturalist
    1855 SA 2 live and/or dead devils examined by naturalist
    1867 SA 2 devils escape botanical gardens
    1873 or 1874 SA 1 devil captured near botanical gardens
    1896 SA or NSW colony devils living at Lake Albert
    1903 Vic 1 devil collected - uncorroborated source
    pre 1912 Vic 5 locations yielding skeletal material
    1912 Vic 1 sighting
    1912 Vic 1 devil killed, now at Museum Victoria
    1971 Vic 1 devil captured alive, now at Museum Victoria
    1974 Vic 1 devil specimen, likely at Museum Victoria
    pre 1991 Vic 1 devil found at Harcourt, uncorroborated source
    1991 Vic 2 devil roadkills, 1 at Museum Victoria, 1 likely at Museum Victoria
    1991 Vic unknown footprints sighted
    1997 WA 1 devil captured alive, displayed in zoo, possibly smuggled
    2009 Vic 1 devil roadkill, known zoo escapee
    undated Vic unknown footprints sighted

    References

    (This section is not complete - full references to come)

    1 The information on this page attributed to Robert Paddle comes from the book "The Last Tasmanian Tiger: The History and Extinction of the Thylacine", 2000, Cambridge University Press, pp 22, 24-25

    The Argus, 17 November 1916

    Note

    the site homepage describes "five" Tasmanian devils as having been collected. The reason we chose this number, in light of the ambiguities, is because it is the most likely total number of devils held by Museum Victoria.