The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine (a dog headed pouched dog) was an exclusively carnivorous marsupial that is considered to be extinct. The last known thylacine died in captivity over 80 years ago, in Tasmania’s Hobart Zoo in 1936. It may also be the only mammal to have become extinct in Tasmania since the European settlement.
Interest in the marsupial was regenerated this week, when Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment released a document that mentions sightings of the animals from September 2016 to September 19, 2019. The first account in this document, from September 2, 2016 says, “…the creature looked like a large cat in size – about 14” to 18” high and about 24” to 30” long. The distinguishing features that stood out were the dark bands on its back running from the spine down across to its underbelly.” The most recent record is from August 15 and consists of over eight such records in the three years.
The thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian Wolf bears some resemblance to a dog, with its distinguishing features being the dark stripes beginning at the rear of its body and extending into its tail, its stiff tail and abdominal pouch.
Have there been other sightings?
According to the Australian government’s Department of Environment and Energy, hundreds of sightings of the animal have been reported since 1936 and many of them have been misidentifications. However, through a detailed study of the sightings carried out between 1934 – 1980, it was concluded that out of the roughly 320 sightings, just under half could be considered “good sightings”. Even so, all sightings till now have been inconclusive. Since the last known thylacine died in 1936, various expeditions have been carried out to search for it, beginning 1937 and culminating in 1993.
Why did they become extinct?
According to the Australian Museum, the thylacine was widespread over continental Australia, extending North to New Guinea and south to Tasmania. It was confined to Tasmania in recent times and disappeared from mainland Australia over 2000 years ago, mainly because of over-hunting by humans, diseases and competition from the Dingo (Canis lupus), a wild dog native to Australia. The Thylacine was also persecuted because it was believed to be a threat to sheep and in its latter years it was hunted for the purposes of collection by museums and zoos. As per some accounts, the introduction of sheep in 1824 led to a conflict between the settlers and thylacine.