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Home movies by devilish guests

Published: 25/03/2010

Each spring, it’s common to get reports about Tasmanian devils under houses. People sometimes complain that devils have just moved in, although the devils have usually been there for months, with Mum keeping a low profile since before the imps were dropped from the pouch and put into a cosy den nest.

People mostly become aware of devils once there is noise: usually it’s the occasional bout of Mum defending her den from competing females around August (the time pouched young are dropped) or in mid-late spring (when imps are getting boisterous).

The whole experience of having devils under your house can be lots of fun, with young devils scampering around the house, even staring in at you through windows. But not everyone feels this way, especially if children are woken and frightened by the uninvited squatters. The imps can be very noisy, especially if there is a full litter of four, and sometimes damage is done - exposed insulation can be pillaged for nests and imps are notorious pack-rats borrowing all manner of thing to play with.

A sad old remedy was to catch and kill (or relocate) the mother devil, then seal the access. This meant the young died under the house. The preferred method now if something must be done, is to wait until the young are as old as possible and exploring the outsider area and then add a cat-flap to the access so the devils are sealed out once they leave. Usually they have nearby secondary sites they can use.

But sometimes people cannot wait and the devils have to be trapped, making sure the number of caught young matches the active nipples of mum (otherwise one or two might be left behind). The best thing then is to generously pen the whole family leaving Mum to rear the young. Once the young are weaned, all can be released back on their home turf – the house being well sealed in the meantime. Devils are protected by law and any of this hands-on stuff must be done by wildlife authorities.

These days we like to put a camera under the house to properly assess the age and numbers of young – information that helps with management decisions. The familiarity and ownership provided by the ‘home movies’ sometimes even gets people to change their mind about immediate eviction. If people can let the breeding event take its course, use a cat flap, and then assess being properly sealed after a few weeks – well that’s a happy ending.