When Tasmania was founded as one of Britain’s most remote penal settlements more than two centuries ago, it was a far cry from its role today as one of Australia’s top tourist destinations. Its many attractions are of the natural kind, including teeming wildlife that is rare or even unique to the island. So the recent choice of state emblem was a surprising one. Everyone knows what a lion, a tiger or a dinosaur is, yet we don’t know what we have living in our own backyards Greg Irons It was not the lissom and prettily camouflaged spotted-tail quoll, an elusive marsupial that seems part otter, part weasel and part possum. Nor was it the appealingly fluffy local subspecies of kangaroo called the forester. Instead, the animal on all the T-shirts and many a rural road sign is the Tasmanian devil – a stubby, short-tempered, solitary creature, socialising only during the mating season or when feeding on a large carcass. Even then, its appalling table manners mean it is as likely to take a chunk out of a neighbouring diner as out of the carrion itself. Should resorts be using animals in their human wellness programmes? In 2014, President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan visited Tasmania and were photographed with three six-month-old Tasmanian devil joeys, sparking a surge of Chinese interest both in the destination and in animals that, in adulthood, display a comical lack of charm. The Chinese are now the leading foreign visitors to Tasmania, many spending little longer in Sydney or Melbourne than it takes to change planes for Hobart. But on arrival they find there is more wildlife to see than they expected. On drives east from the state capital, warning signs carry silhouettes of species with little road sense – not only devils, but wombats, echidnas and more. At night, already modest speed limits are reduced by a further 10km/h (56mph) for animal safety. The Tasmanian devil has a good sense of smell that enables it to detect the carcasses of other wildlife from perhaps 2km (1.2 miles) away, so after sniffing out night-time roadkill, it tends to become the next traffic victim. But conservation efforts have made devils more visible to visitors than before since small colonies are now penned in assorted corners of the island, and draw in visitors who also see other species as a result. Anantara brings luxury to UAE’s Sir Bani Yas Island wildlife reserve The gift shop at the entrance to the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary is full of devil hoodies and devil stuffed toys, suggesting it’s zoo business as usual. But notices describe new arrivals in unexpected terms: an eastern quoll hit by a car, a lizard injured in a suspected cat attack and a lorikeet with concussion. At Bonorong there is nothing in captivity that does not need to be there, and the sanctuary’s entrance fees are to help fund the business of rescuing and rehabilitating native animals that have been harmed by non-native cats, dogs and cars. Creatures are given plenty of private space and are returned to the wild whenever possible. Bonorong’s Private Premium Night Tour offers the chance to walk straight into enclosures with a senior guide to hand-feed assorted native animals such as Randall the echidna, who lost part of a leg after a dog attack. This softly spiny beast, which looks like an overgrown hedgehog with a duck-like beak, waddles over and looks up appealingly before using its worm-like tongue to mop up a meal of lean mince and insect eggs from a gloved hand. Tasmanian devils sniff the air at the approach of dinner, which may sometimes unsentimentally be the remains of another injured animal that did not make it. A plump young orphaned wombat, which resembles an animated sofa cushion, shows a surprising turn of speed to deliver a shin-level headbutt in a friendly manner, before gratefully accepting an offered carrot. We review Amanoi, Aman’s luxury resort in Vietnam The devils are quarantined here for their own safety. Efforts to conserve a population, which was reduced to 10 per cent of its former numbers by a contagious facial tumour, have attracted the attention of not only Chinese but of the whole world. But the wombats and members of many other species will return to the wild when fully grown. “I think all the staff would say that seeing one animal in the wild is better than seeing 200 in captivity,” says director Greg Irons. A similar view is taken at the Tasmanian Devil Unzoo, at the tip of the Tasman Peninsula further south, which has been working to turn itself inside out. I think all the staff would say that seeing one animal in the wild is better than seeing 200 in captivity Greg Irons “The Unzoo is a place where you learn about our native animals,” says founder John Hamilton. “We’re trying to get away from cages and boundary fences, so we heavily rely on our wildlife to join us as well.” Enough food is made available to keep wild animals passing through the site, but not dependent. Forester kangaroos, thickly furred to deal with Tasmania’s cooler weather, hop up to have their chests tickled. Pademelons, a smaller marsupial like a scale model of a wallaby, keep a short distance away but are in no hurry to depart. Extreme holidays for the adventurous The devils here are still enclosed for their own safety, but the Unzoo offers an insight into conservation methods with its Devil Tracker Tour, a trip by off-road vehicle up into neighbouring wooded hillside to retrieve the memory cards from motion-sensor-activated tree-mounted cameras and to view them on computers in a nearby hut. North up the coast to Bicheno, the signboard silhouettes surprisingly start to include the outline of a penguin. The tiny seaside town is home to a colony of 600 knee-high blue (or fairy) penguins, the smallest of the world’s 17 species. Bicheno Penguin Tours start at dusk with a beachside vigil for birds commuting home from a day at sea who cautiously emerge from the waves to scan the shore for predators before waddling uphill, undeterred by knots of humans spotlighting them with dim torches. Small but noisy, with a donkey-like bray, they pause in the crossbeams like stars on stage, the light catching their eyes and white chests, before they disappear into burrows in dunes and fallen trees. Even to many Australian visitors, some of Tasmania’s wildlife is unfamiliar, and, says Irons, it’s a worldwide issue. “Everyone knows what a lion, a tiger or a dinosaur is, yet we don’t know what we have living in our own backyards.” Want more stories like this? Sign up here . Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter.