Fast forward to the late 1990s and the fatal Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) in wild Tasmanian devils is discovered. John and Caroline didn’t hesitate to join conservation efforts to save the species from this preservation threat.
Now, John and Caroline – along with their staff and family – run Tasmania’s only Unzoo which they designed with visionary international zoo designer - John Coe.
“We don't have boundary fences for animals and we've hardly got any cages left so people experience the animals and the plants that live around the place. It's basically walking into a natural habitat,” explains John.
Caroline says consumers’ preferences for animal parks have changed completely over time. “The old-fashioned way of viewing animals is totally unacceptable. We shouldn't have them locked up in concrete pits - we allow the animals to have freedom and the illusion of wide open spaces,” she says.
Thanks to the work of John, Caroline and their team, the devils on their isolated peninsula are free of DFTD. “They are essentially the last, truly safe, wild Tasmanian devils left on the planet,” says John.
The team monitors a group of devils every day using high-tech night cameras to make sure there's no sign of the disease, a vital project that is funded by visitors who join the Unzoo’s Devil Tracker eco-tours.
“People come to this island to learn about Tasmania - to experience good food, good wine plus also our wildlife and nature,” says Caroline.
Karly Dwyer is an editorial contributor at ANZ