The fascinating Tasmanian Devil Unzoo journey—from farmland, to wildlife park, to the world’s first Unzoo project.
The Tasmanian Devil Unzoo story begins when the Hamilton family purchase the historic Brooklands farm on the Tasman Peninsula, with a view to creating one of Tasmania’s first wildlife attractions. The idyllic property features 25 acres of apple and pear orchard, the natural freshwater Allens Creek and one of the peninsula’s grand old homesteads, which is in need of restoration. Work begins immediately to transform the site.
The Tasmanian Devil Park opens to the public with a mission to introduce visitors to the extraordinary animals and plants of Tasmania. The Park’s first Tasmanian devils are orphans, and other hand-raised and rehabilitated native animals are also introduced to Park visitors.
The Park’s Tasmanian devil breeding program begins with the safe arrival of our first captive-bred devils. Over the next decade, breeding continues and the Park introduces Devils in the Dark tours—tracking and view wild Tasmanian devils in their natural habitat.
The Park is expanded and improved; the old orchard is removed, ending the need for sprays and fertilizers on the property. Following close consultation with Disney wildlife show expert Eric Edwards, Tasmania’s first free-flight bird show, Kings of the Wind, is introduced.
On Sunday, 28th April 1996, tragedy engulfs the Tasman Peninsula when a lone gunman takes 35 lives in the Port Arthur area and Port Arthur Historic Site. Police incident headquarters are established at the Tasmanian Devil Park. John and Caroline Hamilton are among those to receive a Police Commendation for their assistance during this devastating ordeal.
Following the discovery of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) in wild Tasmanian devils, the Park immediately joins conservation efforts to address this terrible threat to the species. We implement the first off-display quarantine area, begin working closely with the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, and support many other significant Save the Devil projects.
The Park is renamed the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, to reflect our continuing effort to conserve the species and raise awareness of DFTD.
A major, three-year project begins, to redevelop the site under the innovative Unzoo concept developed by visionary American zoo designer John Coe. During this time, John Coe works with John Hamilton on a master plan for the Park—and the world’s first Unzoo project begins.
Stage One of the site’s Unzoo transformation is complete, with the redesign and removal of boundary fences, construction of new, naturalistic wildlife habitats and extensive plantings of native vegetation to create habitat for resident and local wild animals.
Nesting boxes for wild birds and possums are installed throughout the site, and innovative, new Unzoo experiences for visitors are developed, including:
- The Devil Tracker Adventure—established when biologist Stewart Huxtable unexpectedly finds healthy wild devils on a neighbouring farm. Hi-tech infra-red cameras are installed to check for wild devil activity and when successful observations are recorded, the Tracker concept is developed.
- The Tasmanian Native Botanic Garden concept begins, with assistance from expert botanist Fred Duncan to identify hundreds of native plant species on the site.
- Wild honeyeater and rosella feeding experiences are developed.
- Boundary fences are removed to allow free-ranging local wildlife access to the site.
- Wildlife observation cameras are installed to monitor local wild animals within the site.
In September 2014, art is introduced into the Unzoo experience, with our sponsorship of the $5,000 Tasmanian Wildlife Art Prize. Judged by Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) art curator Sue Backhouse, the exhibition is displayed in galleries developed in the site’s recycled buildings and aviaries. A second permanent art exhibition featuring innovative animal footprint art is also opened to visitors.
The Park is renamed Tasmanian Devil Unzoo, reflecting the new ethos and experience of the site.
A Devil Tracker project to check the disease-free status of the healthy local Tasman Peninsula devils every day using special infra-red night cameras is initiated on private properties in the area. This vital project is funded by visitor entry fees and also a 3-hour guided Devil Tracker 4WD Adventure to see how the wild local devils exist. This includes an Unzoo visit.
The Botanic Garden development continues with plant identification signs installed throughout the site.
40 years – In 2018 both the Governor of Tasmania, Prof Kate Warner, and the Premier, Will Hodgman, unveil plaques commemorating 40 years since construction of the original Tasmanian Devil Park began.
Today, 42 years on and despite a nine month break due to Covid-19, the Hamilton family continues to operate the world’s first Unzoo project, with ongoing developments offering visitors an innovative, multi-layered wildlife and nature experience that is unique in the world. Proudly the Devil Tracker program has been kept going without a stop and now this valuable resource has more than 60,000 images of devils in their natural habitats.
Future opportunities abound. Night tours, extended nature adventures, a wild orchid festival and even converting the family farmhouse into a Three Capes walking lodge beckon.