Tasmania: Roadkill capital of the world

Several weeks ago I was exploring Tasmania with my best friend, Sarah. We had a loose itinerary consisting of hikes at Cradle Mountain, exploring Freycinet National Park and a look at the prison in Port Arthur. Before we departed Sydney for Hobart, everyone warned us about two things that we’d encounter in Tasmania: dismal weather and more roadkill than we’d ever seen. Now, the weather prognostications didn’t shock me. Tasmania is known to be damp and significantly colder than mainland Australia. But roadkill? That seemed like an odd thing to mention. Little did we know that we would soon learn all too well that Tasmania truly is the roadkill capital of the world.

We arrived in Hobart and rented a car to head north to Cradle Mountain. It wasn’t long before we noticed that the roads were littered with dead rabbits, possums, and perhaps saddest of all, wallabies. Not 50 yards would go by without seeing the corpse of another animal who was just a bit too bold or a step too slow. At first, it didn’t register in our minds just how many dead animals we were seeing. In a few days time, however, we’d understand more clearly than we’d like.
Literally every road, highway and path in Tasmania has the remnants of the indigenous marsupials that are active between dusk and dawn. Their lifestyle is their downfall. These animals are active at night and the roads in Tasmania are curvy, hilly and not well lit. As such, every night becomes a bloodbath in the smallest Australian state. According to Roadkill in Tasmania, approximately 293,000 animals become roadkill in Tasmania annually. The roadkill is so dense that a dead animal on the road can be seen every three kilometers.

We learned this lesson with a close call during our first night on the island. We were leaving our backpackers site to get dinner down the road. The sun was rapidly setting and dusk was upon us. I slowly drove down the gravel road, not because I was wary of animals but because I wasn’t sure that our cheap rental could survive a gravel road. We hadn’t traveled more than 20 yards before the wallabies made themselves known. There were three foraging right alongside of the road. We crawled past them safely and laughed about how amazing it was that we had such a close encounter with a unique animal.

The days flew by in Tasmania as we hiked around Dove Lake and explored Wineglass Bay. All the while we began to become cognizant of the amount of roadkill that we had witnessed. But our personal understanding was still to come.

We left the Tasman Peninsula on our third day on the island and headed back towards the east coast to make our way to Bicheno. Having no agenda, we meandered our way there, stopping to see platypus, echidna and seahorses at various wildlife parks. Eventually, day turned into night and my friend Sarah found herself on one of the curviest stretches of the Tasman Highway. It was time for us to understand Tasmanian roadkill firsthand.

We were the only car in sight around 8:00PM on that early March evening. It was pitch black outside with the exception of our car’s high beams. Seemingly out of nowhere, a rabbit darted into the road in front of us. Remarkably, Sarah was able to avoid the tiny critter without incident. We joked about the near miss and quickly turned our attention back to finding any radio station that would work in this random part of Tasmania. Not two minutes later, it happened. Sarah gasped, there was a blur in front of us and then a thud that echoed both in feel and sound. The possum never had a chance.

To say that it ran into the road a mere foot in front of the car would be an understatement. If the it had been any closer to us, it would have ran into the side of the car. Sarah couldn’t have avoided it. A possum was dead and we had added to the public cemetery of animals on Tasmania. Not surprisingly, Sarah was startled and shaken. She slowed the car down to about 30 km/h and focused all of her attention straight ahead. About three minutes later, no more than ten feet ahead of us, was a wallaby. It was standing in the road. Staring at us. Was it suicidal? Hitchhiking? We didn’t know why it was standing in the most dangerous place possible, but Sarah slowed down even more and safely navigated around it.

We avoided night driving over the next two days. We had one encounter with a pademelon who ran in front of our car on a dirt road but he literally kept running ahead of us while we slowly traversed the uneven surface. Otherwise, we drove cautiously, without incident and by the light of the sun. During the day, the creatures of Tasmania are safely tucked away in trees and burrows.

We returned to Sydney with plenty of stories of Tasmania. The weather, remarkably, had been gorgeous. So, in that respect, our friends’ warnings were incorrect. But the tales of roadkill were all too true. However, there was one thing that no one had warned us about. You can’t exactly describe it as roadkill, but it still involves some of Tasmania’s smallest creatures. You see, there are a lot of bugs in Tasmania. And they, too, are active at night. And they don’t fair well against cars either.