T H E   T A S M A N I A N    T I G E R


Geographically and genetically isolated, Tasmania is known for its unique flora and fauna. Many species migrated to the single Australia-New Zealand-New Guinea-Tasmania landmass from South America 50 million years ago, when the southern pole had a temperate climate and the super continent of Gondwana connected South America, Antarctica and Australasia.

Australian mammals and birds developed distinctive looks and characteristics due to the fact that Australia has been sitting alone in the South Seas for forty million years and is the driest and flattest of all inhabited continents. As schoolchildren, we were fascinated to learn about the strange looking and uniquely talented species found only in Australia. For example: kangaroos, wallabies, dingos, cassowaries, dugongs, currowongs, kookaburras, river dolphins, koalas, devils, quolls, potoroo, wombats, bettongs, emus, bandicoots, and perhaps most incredible — the duck-billed, flat-tailed, toothless, carnivorous, egg-laying platypus.

Another such animal is the Thylacine. Commonly referred to as the Tasmanian Tiger (because of its stripes) and sometimes called the Marsupial Wolf, the Thylacine is neither tiger nor wolf — it is a carnivorous marsupial. Strange looking to our eyes, more like a dog than a cat, the Thylacine was both beloved and hated in Tasmania — two of them are shown in the great seal of the State and one is included in the government’s tourism logo.

The thylacine’s scientific name – thylacinus cynocephalus – is Greek for “dog-headed pouched one.” The earliest known example of the species dates back 23 million years to the early Miocene and this thylacinid was much smaller than its recent relatives. The largest member of the family, about the size of a wolf, survived until modern times.

On the Australian mainland and in New Guinea, the thylacine was largely eradicated by competition from natural predators by the time Europeans moved in, but it survived on the island of Tasmania. Tasmanian farmers demonized the thylacine as a sheep-killer, although feral dogs and thieving humans were a much greater threat and more likely culprits. The government, pushed by the wool industry, offered a bounty for kills from 1888 to 1909, leading to the demise of species in the wild circa 1930 (similar to the demise of the American wolf). In July 1936 thylacines were granted governmental protection, but it was too late – the last known thylacine died two months later in September 1936 in the Hobart Zoo.

“However, there is sufficient evidence in the form of sighting reports, many from highly respected sources, to suggest that the extinction may not yet have taken place. Therefore, throughout the Museum, the species is viewed as extant, albeit critically endangered.” — Cameron Campbell, founder and curator, the Thylacine Museum

Since 1936 — in death — the thylacine has become a Tasmanian icon. And ironically, the thylacine was posthumously exonerated of sheep-killer charges: zoological and biomechanical research has determined that thylacine jaws could not handle prey as large as sheep – they were suited only for smaller game such as wallabies, bandicoots and possums.

Research examining thylacine elbow and foot structure by Brown University palaeontologists have shown that it hunted like a cat, not a wolf. While wolves often hunt in packs, chasing down their prey over large distances, the thylacine’s bones suggest it used stealth, surprise and short bursts of speed, like a large cat, to catch its meals.

From specimens kept in zoos, observers discovered that they would hop and jump like kangaroos when frightened, and they could also sit upright on their hind legs without discomfort.

Visit these links to learn more about the Tasmanian Tiger and the wildlife of Australia:

   The Tylacine Museum extensive research, data collection, photos

   Wikipedia facts and history

   The Thylacine Footage HD video, 6 min

   Adaptive Radiated Marsupials creatures with stripes

   Threatened fauna of Australia 19 critically endangered, 128 endangered.

   Sighting in the wild 1973 video, 15 sec

   Why the Thylacine is still alive 50 min

   Natural Mystery Series 10 video segments, 5.5 min each

   The Tasmanian Devil

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