The Tragic Story of the Extinct Tasmanian Tiger

Tasmanian Tiger

Unraveling the Mystery of the Tasmanian Tiger: An In-Depth Look at the Thylacine

The Tasmanian Tiger, also known as the Thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), is a species that has captivated the imagination of people around the world. Despite being declared extinct in the 1930s, countless reported sightings of this enigmatic marsupial have kept the legend alive, leaving many wondering if these creatures still roam the remote wilderness of Australia and Tasmania.

Tasmanian devil and thylacine, both labelled as members of Didelphis, from Harris' 1808 description. This is the earliest known non-indigenous illustration of a thylacine.
Tasmanian devil and thylacine, both noted as members of Didelphis, from Harris’ 1808 description. This is the earliest known non-indigenous illustration of a thylacine.

The Tasmanian Wolf, the largest Dasyure, might easily be taken for a member of the canine family ; but the female is furnished with a pouch Which opens backwards, although the marsupial bones are absent, being represented only by cartilages. The animal is about four feet in length, including the tail of sixteen inches, or about the size of the jackal; sometimes it attains a total length ot six feet. but even then it is a smaller animal than the European wolf. It is greyish brown in colour, washed with yellow, and from just behind the shoulders to the root of the tail the back is marked with transverse black stripes that gained for it the name Zebra Wolf, although the colonists frequently call it the ‘tiger.’ Though it is not a particularly quick animal the Thylacine preys the the duckbill, even with the advantage of aquatic habits a deep burrow, often falls a victim and, stranger still, a panoply of bayonet-like prickles cannot save the echidna. In the early days of the colonisation of Tasmania the Thylacine outvied the Native Devil in its voracious attacks on the sheep, and consequently this animal too, recieved scant mercy at the hands of the settlers; and it is now to be found only in the more remote mountainous regions. When hunted it is fierce and desperate to the last degree, and no single dog would dare venture within reach of its teeth. In captivity the Thylacine does not exhibit the ferocity of its near relation, the Ursine Dasyure and animals in the Zoological Gardens have speedily become friendly with their keepers.

New Illustrated Natural History of the World, 1910

The Last Known Thylacine

The last captive Thylacine, known as “Benjamin,” died on the night of September 6-7, 1936, at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania. It is believed that the animal succumbed to neglect after being locked out of its sheltered sleeping quarters and exposed to an unfortunate combination of unseasonably extreme weather conditions – intense heat during the day followed by freezing temperatures at night.

Taxonomy and Physical Characteristics

The Thylacine was a marsupial carnivore and the largest member of the Thylacinidae family. It was a unique and fascinating animal with distinctive physical features. The Tasmanian Tiger had a body length of around 5-7 feet (1.5-2.1 meters) and weighed up to 65 pounds (29.5 kg). Its fur was short and sandy-colored with 13-21 distinctive dark stripes across its back, earning it the nickname “Tiger.” The animal had a long, stiff tail, a large head with a wide gape, and powerful jaws with 46 teeth.

Early Descriptions and Illustrations

One of the earliest known non-indigenous illustrations of a Thylacine was featured in George Harris’ 1808 description, where both the Tasmanian Devil and the Thylacine were noted as members of the genus Didelphis. In the “New Illustrated Natural History of the World” (1910), the Thylacine was described as a fierce and desperate animal when hunted, with no single dog daring to venture within reach of its teeth.

Habitat and Distribution

Thylacines once inhabited mainland Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea. However, by the time of European settlement, they were confined to Tasmania. They occupied a variety of habitats, including open forests, wetlands, and grasslands.

Diet and Hunting Behavior

As an apex predator, the Tasmanian Tiger primarily preyed upon wallabies, kangaroos, and other marsupials. It was an ambush predator, using its keen senses of sight, smell, and hearing to locate and pursue its prey. Thylacines were also known to hunt in pairs or small family groups. In captivity, they showed a clear preference for birds, particularly chickens.

Reproduction and Social Structure

Thylacines were generally solitary animals, with males and females only coming together during the breeding season. Females had a pouch with four teats and could give birth to up to four cubs at a time. The cubs would remain in the pouch for around three months before venturing out and accompanying their mother on hunts. Thylacines were not known to be territorial and had overlapping home ranges.

Extinction and Threats The Tasmanian

Tiger faced numerous threats that ultimately led to its extinction. These included habitat loss due to human settlement and agricultural expansion, competition with introduced species like dogs and foxes, and direct persecution by humans who considered them a threat to livestock. A bounty system was introduced in the 19th century, which encouraged the widespread hunting of Thylacines. By the 1920s, sightings of the animal had become extremely rare, and the last wild Thylacine was captured in 1933.

Recent Sightings and the Possibility of Rediscovery

Despite being officially declared extinct, reported sightings of Thylacines have persisted over the years. Many of these sightings have originated from remote areas of Tasmania and mainland Australia, fueling speculation that a small population may have survived undetected. However, to date, no concrete evidence has emerged to confirm the existence of living Thylacines.

De-extinction Efforts: Plans to Bring Back the Tasmanian Tiger

Recent advancements in biotechnology have reignited discussions about the possibility of bringing the Tasmanian Tiger back from extinction. Scientists have successfully extracted DNA from preserved Thylacine specimens and are exploring techniques such as cloning and genetic engineering to recreate the species. However, the process of de-extinction is complex and raises significant ethical and ecological questions that must be carefully considered.

It is clear that there is still some uncertainty surrounding the fate of the Tasmanian Tiger even after all this time. While most experts agree that they are likely extinct due to lack of physical evidence or reliable reports, some remain hopeful that a small population may remain hidden away somewhere on mainland Australia or Tasmania waiting to be rediscovered. Until then we can only speculate about their fate but one thing is for sure – we will never stop wondering if they are truly gone forever or if they still roam somewhere deep within our forests. Ecologists will continue looking for answers about this mysterious creature for many years to come.

The Tasmanian Tiger remains one of the most captivating and mysterious creatures in recent history. Its tragic extinction serves as a poignant reminder of the devastating impact human activities can have on biodiversity. While the possibility of rediscovering or even resurrecting the Thylacine is tantalizing, it is crucial to prioritize the conservation of existing species and their habitats to prevent further losses. The enduring fascination with the Tasmanian Tiger highlights the importance of preserving our natural heritage and the urgent need to protect the incredible biodiversity that still exists on our planet.