Extinct or Elusive – My Encounter with a Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalis)

Australia is home to some of the most highly evolved and adapted species in the world. After millions of years of isolation as a continent, nowhere else in the world, has such a wide variety of fascinating animals. Australia is synonymous with animals such as the koala, kangaroo and platypus. However, none is more mysterious than the Thylacine, also known as the ‘Tasmanian Tiger’.

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After the last remaining Thylacine died in captivity in 1936, the species is now considered as being extinct, however there are many theories and sighting’s which refute this claim of extinction. I, myself, believe that this species still roams the wilderness of the island of Tasmania, but lets start with some history of this fascinating creature.


What is a Tasmanian Tiger?

The full scientific name for the Tasmanian Tiger is Thylacinus cynocephalis which loosely translates to pouched dog with a wolf’s head.

Since European settlement, the Thylacine has only been known to inhabit the Island of Tasmania to the south of the Australian mainland. The original distribution of the Thylacine is thought to have included most of mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea. The range of the Thylacine was greatly reduced after the introduction of the Dingo by Asian seafarers approximately 3000 years ago. The dingo outcompeted the Thylacine for food and ultimately resulted in its extinction from the Australian mainland. The Thylacine was also hunted as a food source by indigenous people.

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A pair of Thylacines in the Washington D.C. Zoo - 1906 - Source

Upon the arrival of Europeans to Tasmania in 1803, the Thylacine could only be found in the coastal lowlands of Tasmania and was quite common.

The Tasmanian Tiger

Although the size of a dog, the Thylacine’s closest cousin is the marsupial Tasmanian Devil. It had a backward facing pouch, a head like a wolf and stripes like a tiger. It was unlike anything European settlers had ever seen.

The Thylacine was reported to be a shy and reclusive animal, that would avoid human contact at all cost, similar to the Tasmanian devil. They were relentless carnivorous hunters and would pursue their prey until it was exhausted.

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They were said to be able to rest upon their hind legs, using their tails for support, similar to a Kangaroo and had been known to hop for short distances.

Road to Extinction

On 7 September 1936, the last known Tasmanian Tiger died at the Hobart Zoo. This animal had been very common and not endangered only 100 years earlier. How did this animal become extinct so quickly? The answer is predation by humans.


Video of the last Thylacine in captivity at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania, 1935 - Source

Sheep were introduced into Tasmania during the 1820’s and they became an easy target for hungry Thylacines. To combat the loss of livestock, a bounty for every Thylacine destroyed was first introduced in 1830. The government then introduced another bounty in 1888 and this was in place until 1909. During this time 2180 bounties were paid out. This had a devastating effect on the wild population of the Thylacine and in 1933 the last Thylacine was captured and placed in captivity. Eventually, this animal died in 1936, resulting in the official extinction of the species.

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Wilfred Batty of Mawbanna, Tasmania, with the last Tasmanian tiger known to have been shot in the wild. He shot the tiger in May, 1930 after it was discovered in his hen house - Source

Extinct or Elusive?

Since 1936, there have been numerous sighting’s of the Thylacine in Tasmania, and some on the Australian mainland. Although sighting’s have been common, none have ever been substantiated.

Sightings:

Rex Gilroy claimed he saw a thylacine on Tuesday, February 22, 1972 at 10.15pm on the Great Western Highway, south of Blackheath. He said the creature had at least 19 black body stripes, extending from mid-back to tail-rump and was about 1.52 metres long from nose to tail-tip. Source

Recently, footage of an animal in South Australia has emerged that claims to possibly be a Thylacine in the wild. Paul Day, 52, was out filming a sunrise on farmland near Moonta on the Yorke Peninsula when he spotted a four-legged creature running across the horizon.


2016 Thylacine Sighting – South Australia - Source

Far North Queensland researchers will launch a scientific study into the existence of Tasmanian tigers on Cape York following a series of historical sightings being reported.


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Another sighting comes from Barrie Murphy, who said he was driving on the north end of Inverloch, Victoria, when an animal ran across the road. He couldn’t see the head, but he was certain it had the animal’s distinctive markings on its body. “As I drove past it, I saw the stripes down its side and onto its flank,” he said. Murphy tried to get another look, but it was gone. In December of 2015 another local, Tony Holgate, claimed to have seen one at the southern end of the loch. Murphy said he also knew others who had seen a thylacine in recent years. SOURCE
The map below shows the place where the sightings occurred:

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Sightings Map

The number of sightings over history have been compiled in the maps below. A significant number of sightings by people who attest to seeing a Thylacine in the wild is overwhelming. This number of sightings raises the question of whether the species still exists.

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My Story

My story is from when I was only a young teenager, out hunting with friends of the family. We used to go out into dense bush, spotlighting for wallabies of a night. We would take a few wallabies for patties and dog meat on a private property.

This particular night, we were walking through the bush quietly sweeping our spotlights around. Suddenly, I spotted something that I initially thought was a larger wallaby. This, however, had a much lighter fur colour than a wallaby and was walking through the scrub. It was difficult to see, but I clearly made out the hind quarters of the animal and its stiff tail. It moved like and looked like a dog. I was a bit shocked and tried to figure out what I had seen.

After talking about it with some mates after we had finished hunting and describing it to them, I was convinced that this was not something I had seen before. Since that encounter, I have recalled and shared it with different people, particularly after a few drinks.

Some believed that it might have been a fox, however, there are no foxes in Tasmania or dingoes and the only other animal that it could have been would have been a wild dog. Wild dogs, don’t come near humans and can smell you from kilometres away. I am convinced it was a Thylacine.


Are you a believer?

So the question remains, Is the Tasmanian Tiger still alive today? With the many sightings and truthers in the community that swear they have seen one alive in the wild, and with my ‘close encounter’, I believe that yes, these animals could still be roaming the wilderness of Tasmania. I am more reluctant to believe that they could still exist on the Australian mainland due to the high numbers of competitors such as dingoes and foxes that would easily outcompete them for resources.

So, what do you think?

Thanks for reading.



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