By Baker; E.J. Keller. -  from the Smithsonian Institution archives.

Is the Tasmanian Tiger Still on the Prowl?

(Thylacinous cynocephalus) also known as the Tasmanian Tiger has been extinct since the 1930’s. The last known Thylacine in the wild was killed between 1910 and 1920 and the last Tasmanian tiger in human care died in 1936 at the Hobart Zoo in Tasmania. For nearly nine decades this animal has not been sighted and was officially declared extinct in 1986. The animal was not seen again, until recently where sightings have been reported.

Photo by The Natural History Museum at Oslo

Photo by The Natural History Museum at Oslo

The Tasmanian tiger is not a member of the cat family nor is it a cousin of the Tasmanian devil. Its scientific name literally means ‘dog-headed pouch one.’ It was known to be one of the largest carnivorous marsupials in the world and is thought to have emerged around 4 million years ago. They are even depicted in Aboriginal rock art dating back to at least 3,000 years. They once roamed Australia, but disappeared everywhere except Tasmania about 2,000 years ago. In the early 19th century, there were about 5,000 animals left, but their population quickly declined due to habitat loss and disease introduced by when European settlers arrived to Australia, but the biggest contribution to their decline was hunting. The Tasmanian government put a bounty on their head and considered them a nuisance animal and a threat to livestock.

 

By Victor Prout

By Victor Prout

 

There have been 4,000 reported Thylacine sightings ever since the last Tazmanian tiger died, however some claims were more credible than others and were often cases of mistaken identity. Since the first reported sightings, many more people have come forward claiming that they too have seen a ghost of the past. More recently, people in Northern Queensland have been giving plausible detailed descriptions and even some images have emerged that have scientists scratching their heads. Of course, this is exciting news for conservationists who always leave a small glimmer of hope, that there are still a few elusive animals alive to keep the population going. All of this raises the question: was the population of the Tasmanian tiger truly extinct or just incredibly elusive?

 

Photo by Dr. David Fleay

Photo by Dr. David Fleay

 

New scientific investigations are ongoing to determine just that. Survey sites have been set up along the Cape York Peninsula in North Queensland Australia where Thylacine sightings have been reported, most of which have been spotted at night. One reported sighting documented four animals at about 20ft illuminated by a spotlight. The detailed description corroborated that it was likely Tasmanian tigers and not a simple case of mistaken identity. Scientists have crossed-checked the reported descriptions examining eye shine color, shape, and body size and behavior to look for inconsistencies with more common animals like dingos and wild dogs.

 

Scientists are using camera traps in hopes to obtain photographic evidence that the once extinct Thylacine was simply elusive. Researchers from James Cook University have obtained permits from private landowners for this study. The camera traps also give the scientists an opportunity to survey the vulnerability of other threatened wildlife in the area, as mammalian populations have been experiencing severe decline. Due to the nature of this study, researchers are keeping information confidential to protect both the animals and the landowners. It is definitely a study to follow and maybe one day we will be able to answer if the Thylacine was truly extinct or just highly elusive. Regardless one thing is certain, if the animal is still alive, populations are likely small and ne




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