Saturday, 13 December 2008

Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) Believed To Be Extinct

During my information hunt on the Tasmanian Devil for my post yesterday, I read about the Tasmanian Tiger. Their closest living relative is the Tasmanian Devil. I recalled first learning about them in school in the early 1960s, with their numbers dwindling. From observing the Thylacines presented in the video below, the head partially resembles the shape of an Akita dog when viewed from the side.

According to Wikipedia:

“The Thylacine held the status of "endangered species" until 1986. International standards state that any animal for which no specimens have been recorded for 50 years is to be declared extinct. Since no definitive proof of the Thylacine's existence had been found since Benjamin died in 1936, it now met that official criterion and was declared officially extinct by the IUCN. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is more cautious, listing it as "possibly extinct".

“The Thylacine (Greek for: dog-headed pouched one) was the largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times. Native to Australia and New Guinea, it is thought to have become extinct in the 20th century. It is commonly known as the Tasmanian Tiger (because of its striped back), the Tasmanian Wolf, and colloquially the Tassie (or Tazzy) Tiger or simply the Tiger. It was the last extant member of its genus, Thylacinus, although several related species have been found in the fossil record dating back to the early Miocene.

Video of alleged sighting plus video footage of Tasmanian Tigers in captivity in early 1900s.

This weblink has a map of Thylacine sightings in both Australia and Tasmania.

Also, here is a weblink where Thylacines were reported as being pets.

"The Thylacine became extinct on the Australian mainland thousands of years before European settlement of the continent, but it survived on the island of Tasmania along with several endemic species, including the Tasmanian Devil. Intensive hunting encouraged by bounties is generally blamed for its extinction, but other contributory factors may have been disease, the introduction of dogs, and human encroachment into its habitat. Despite being officially classified as extinct, sightings are still reported.

[Thylacine cubs with mother]

Like the tigers and wolves of the Northern Hemisphere, from which it inherited two of its common names, the Thylacine was an apex predator. As a marsupial, it was not related to these placental mammals, but because of convergent evolution it displayed the same general form and adaptations. Its closest living relative is the Tasmanian Devil.

The Thylacine was one of only two marsupials to have a pouch in both sexes (the other is the Water Opossum). The male Thylacine had a pouch that acted as a protective sheath, protecting the male's external reproductive organs while running through thick brush.

The mature Thylacine ranged from 100 cm (39 in) to 180 cm (71 in) long, including a tail of around 50 cm (20 in) to 65 cm (26 in). The largest measured specimen was 290 cm (9.5 ft) from nose to tail. Adults stood about 60 cm (24 in) at the shoulder and weighed 20 kg (44 lb) to 30 kg (66 lb). There males were larger than females on average.

Thylacine footprints could be distinguished from other native or introduced animals; unlike foxes, cats, dogs, wombats or Tasmanian Devils, Thylacines had a very large rear pad and four obvious front pads, arranged in almost a straight line. The hindfeet were similar to the forefeet but had four digits rather than five. Their claws were non-retractable.

Although there are no recordings of Thylacine vocalisations, observers of the animal in the wild and in captivity noted that it would growl and hiss when agitated, often accompanied by a threat-yawn. During hunting it would emit a series of rapidly repeated guttural cough-like barks (described as "yip-yap", "cay-yip" or "hop-hop-hop"), probably for communication between the family pack members. It also had a long whining cry, probably for identification at distance, and a low snuffling noise used for communication between family members.

The Thylacine was a nocturnal and crepuscular hunter, spending the daylight hours in small caves or hollow tree trunks in a nest of twigs, bark or fern fronds. It tended to retreat to the hills and forest for shelter during the day and hunted in the open heath at night. Early observers noted that the animal was typically shy and secretive, with awareness to the presence of humans and generally avoiding contact, though it occasionally showed inquisitive traits.

There is evidence for at least some year-round breeding (cull records show joeys discovered in the pouch at all times of the year), although the peak breeding season was in winter and spring. They would produce up to four cubs per litter (typically two or three), carrying the young in a pouch for up to three months and protecting them until they were at least half adult size. Early pouch young were hairless and blind, but they had their eyes open and were fully furred by the time they left the pouch. After leaving the pouch, and until they were developed enough to assist, the juveniles would remain in the lair while the female hunted. Thylacines only once bred successfully in captivity, in Melbourne Zoo in 1899. Their life expectancy in the wild is estimated to have been 5 to 7 years, although captive specimens survived up to 9 years.

The Thylacine was exclusively carnivorous. Its stomach was muscular with an ability to distend to allow the animal to eat large amounts of food at one time, probably an adaptation to compensate for long periods when hunting was unsuccessful and food scarce. Analysis of the skeletal frame and observations of it in captivity suggest that it singled out a target animal and pursued it until it was exhausted. Some studies conclude that the animal may have hunted in small family groups, with the main group herding prey in the general direction of an individual waiting in ambush. Trappers reported it as an ambush predator.

Prey included kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, birds and small animals such as potoroos and possums. A favourite prey animal may have been the once common Tasmanian Emu. The emu was a large, flightless bird which shared the habitat of the Thylacine and was hunted to extinction around 1850, possibly coinciding with the decline in Thylacine numbers. Both dingos and foxes have been noted to hunt the emu on the mainland. Throughout the 20th century, the Thylacine was often characterised as primarily a blood drinker, but little reference is now made to this trait; its popularity seems to have originated from a single second-hand account. European settlers believed the Thylacine to have preyed upon farmers' sheep and poultry. In captivity, Thylacines were fed a wide variety of foods, including dead rabbits and wallabies as well as beef, mutton, and horse and occasionally poultry.

[Thylacines at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, 1910]

Although long extinct on the Australian mainland by the time the European settlers arrived, the Thylacine survived into the 1930s in Tasmania. At the time of the first settlement, the heaviest distributions were in the northeast, northwest and north-midland regions. From the early days of European settlement they were rarely sighted but slowly began to be credited with numerous attacks on sheep. This led to the establishment of bounty schemes in an attempt to control their numbers. The Van Diemen's Land Company introduced bounties on the Thylacine from as early as 1830, and between 1888 and 1909 the Tasmanian government paid £1 per head for the animal (10 shillings for pups). In all they paid out 2,184 bounties, but it is thought that many more Thylacines were killed than were claimed. Its extinction is popularly attributed to these relentless efforts by farmers and bounty hunters.

Whatever the reason, the animal had become extremely rare in the wild by the late 1920s. There were several efforts to save the species from extinction. Records of the Wilsons Promontory management committee dating to 1908 included recommendations for Thylacines to be reintroduced to several suitable locations on the Victorian mainland. In 1928, the Tasmanian Advisory Committee for Native Fauna had recommended a reserve to protect any remaining Thylacines, with potential sites of suitable habitat including the Arthur-Pieman area of western Tasmania.

The last known wild Thylacine to be killed was shot in 1930, by farmer Wilf Batty in Mawbanna, in the northeast of the state. The animal (believed to be a male) had been seen around Batty's hen houses for several weeks.

Although the Thylacine is considered extinct, many people believe the animal still exists. Sightings are regularly claimed in Tasmania, other parts of Australia and even in the Western New Guinea area of Indonesia, near the Papua New Guinea border. The Australian Rare Fauna Research Association reports having 3,800 sightings on file from mainland Australia since the 1936 extinction date, while the Mystery Animal Research Centre of Australia recorded 138 up to 1998, and the Department of Conservation and Land Management recorded 65 in Western Australia over the same period. Independent Thylacine researchers Buck and Joan Emburg of Tasmania report 360 Tasmanian and 269 mainland post-extinction 20th century sightings, figures compiled from a number of sources. On the mainland, sightings are most frequently reported in Southern Victoria.

Some sightings have generated a large amount of publicity. In 1982 a researcher with the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service, Hans Naarding, observed what he believed to be a Thylacine for three minutes during the night at a site near Arthur River in northwestern Tasmania. The sighting led to an extensive year-long government-funded search. In January 1995, a Parks and Wildlife officer reported observing a Thylacine in the Pyengana region of northeastern Tasmania in the early hours of the morning. Later searches revealed no trace of the animal. In 1997, it was reported that locals and missionaries near Mount Carstensz in Western New Guinea had sighted Thylacines. The locals had apparently known about them for many years but had not made an official report. In February 2005 Klaus Emmerichs, a German tourist, claimed to have taken digital photographs of a Thylacine he saw near the Lake St Clair National Park, but the authenticity of the photographs has not been established. The photos were not published until April 2006, fourteen months after the sighting.

The results of subsequent searches indicated a strong possibility of the survival of the species in Tasmania into the 1960s. Searches by Dr. Eric Guiler and David Fleay in the north-west of Tasmania found footprints and scats that may have belonged to the animal, heard vocalisations matching the description of those of the Thylacine, and collected anecdotal evidence from people reported to have sighted the animal. Despite the searches, no conclusive evidence was found to point to its continued existence in the wild.

UPDATE: On the site a 2006 Thylacine sighting was reported at Savage River near a conservation park (Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area) in Tasmania with a photo of an animal's torso with the distinctive striping on the lower back. The photographer described a "German Shepherd/Kangaroo thing" that looked like a pup which ran to a larger animal of the same kind when the flash of his camera went off.

Source: Wikipedia,, [sightings in 1960s]

Photo Credits: Wikipedia.


RuneE said...

Maybe there is some hope after all? all too many species are being lost.

laughingwolf said...

thx barbara, had never heard of this critter... hope it survived

Charles Gramlich said...

I sure hope it still exists. A beautiful animal, although it sounds like it was on it's way out before humans. I wonder if anyone ever would have been able to domesticate these.

BernardL said...

The tiger is indeed a very interesting looking animal. Like Charles, I wonder if anyone ever tried to domesticate them; but they were probably too much of the hunter.

Barbara Martin said...

RuneE, Tony, Charles and Bernard: there are several animals considered extinct that have been sighted in the last several years: the Waitaha Penguin in New Zealand, the Borneo Javan Elephant (1,000), Falklands Wolf, a soft-shelled turtle found in North Vietnam, and the Berlepsch's six-wired bird in a remote area of New Guinea.

There is always hope with proper conservation efforts that species at critical risk of extinction can be saved.

Steve Malley said...

Domesticate the Man-Eating Kangaroo?!

(think about it-- it's the most obvious name for the only carniverous marsupial!)

I do hope there are still a few around.

Merisi said...

It truly saddens one's heart reading that these animals have not so long ago been around in numbers great enough to be hunted down for bounty.

Travis Erwin said...

Very interesting post. I have never heard of these.

Lana Gramlich said...

Most people don't realize that the Bengal tiger's been extinct in the wild for over 10 years now. I wish I could hold out hope for all of the endangered species, but wherever money competes with nature, money wins. Sad, really, to think we're selling out the entire world for the illusion of wealth & power. Ironic & sick.

Anonymous said...

Barbara, very, very interesting post !
I think the wolf Tasmania an attitude comparable to that of dogs in the wild.
thank you very much to share.

Maria said...

The poor thing does not look very happy on the video, moving restlessly in its tiny cage :(
Once I saw a lion in Vienna' zoo walking back and forth, back and forh in his cage. In the meantime, the cages are much larger, fortunately!

Gary's third pottery blog said...

I hope it survived too! And what a load of snow in the above post!

Barbara Martin said...

Steve, regular tigers tend to be maneaters when their hunting ranges are reduced. However, as these tend to be more wolfish, and from a scene in the video where a display of curiousity is shown; they may have been able to be domesticated provided the early human contact was made when they were cubs.

Meirsi, I agree.

Travis, I found a couple of other species that are new to me, and will post about them at a later time.

Barbara Martin said...

Lana, the bengal tigers in India are at such low numbers they are headed to extinction, though the 2008 IUCN Red List estimates 1400 individuals based on a breeding population in national India. The total number of tigers which include subspecies total fewer than 2,500. Very sad.

François, excellent observation.

Maria, zoos in the late 1800s and early 1900s were more for the display of these exotic animals. Once the enclosures became enlarged combined with proper food the animals' lives extended.

Barbara Martin said...

Gary, if there remain to be sightings hopefully there are breeding individuals to perpetuate their species.

Anonymous said...

Probably one of the most comprehensive, well researched posts on the thylacine i have come across..well done :)
Eventhough no strong evidence has been found that it may have survived, sightings do continue here in Tasmania; from tourists and residents alike. The positive thing to keep in mind is that Tasmania's land mass covers 24,000 square miles...of which 40% plus is forest and wild permanently protected from any development. Its continued existence is certainly possible

Anonymous said...

Dear Barbara; great father the Australian Naturalist David Fleay is believed to have been the last person to photograph the last captive Thylacine "Benjamin" at the Zoo in Hobart circa a little child I joined the expedition in 1946 in the wilds of Tasmania....evidence was found that there were survivors...seems now these beautiful animals are gone forever
Stephen Fleay
Bandung Java