Feared in Life, Loved in Death: Resurrecting the Tasmanian Tiger

Humanity has always had a macabre credo.  It goes something like this;   “I don’t know what that is.  It scares me.  I don’t like it.  We should probably kill it”.  One of the countless unfortunate victims of that primitive mindset is the Thylacine, aka the Tasmanian Tiger.

cost of viagra vs cialis vs levitraConsidered extinct since 1936, the thylacine was once abundant in Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea.

An anomalous animal, it was the largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times.  Although it had a pouch like its fellow marsupials (another unique quality is that both male and female Thylacines had pouches), Tasmanian Tiger looked quite like a dog or a wolf, and exhibited much the same behavior as its fellow apex predators like wolves and tigers.

It is believed that at the time of European settlement, Tasmanian Tigers were already quite scarce on the Australian mainland, but had found suitable habitat on the island of Tasmania, along with other unique creatures such as the Tasmanian Devil.

In the early 1800’s, agriculture came to Tasmania as farmers began to migrate to the island.   The thylacine was considered a pest, reportedly having a penchant for sheep and chicken.  Bounties were set in place for the pelts and scalps of the animal.   Although there is now some dispute as to whether the thylacine was indeed the pest it was made out to be, or merely the target of fear by European farmers unfamiliar with such a foreign looking creature, they were hunted to near extinction, with the last bounty being collected in 1909.

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The last reported “killing” of the Tasmanian Tiger was in 1930, and by 1933  the creature was given a protected status.  Unfortunately, the realization that they were annihilating the entire population of a wholly unique animal came too late.  The last known thylacine (named Benjamin) was captured and kept in captivity at the Hobart Domain Zoo and sadly died in 1936, becoming the last known Tasmanian Tiger in captivity.

As tends to happen, a deep sense of regret set in,  and Australians and Tasmanians were troubled by the slaughter of this native treasure.  Tasmania put the thylacine on its official Coat of Arms.

All these years later, the now beloved Tasmanian Tiger is something of a national icon, and the public remains fascinated.  A book report printable form on the thylacine has opened at the Wilderness Gallery at Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain, and includes relics such as a model of a thylacine skeleton and a rug composed of eight skins.   These items compose the largest collection of Tasmanian Tiger items in the world.  Artifacts like thylacine pelts are rare, because the creature in its heyday was considered so unsavory, people rarely preserved pieces of killed specimen beyond turning them in for the bounty.

Above:  Last Tasmanian Tiger 1933 Footage

The legend of the Tasmanian Tiger lives on.  And some believe, the thylacine itself lives on in remote regions of Tasmania.  Almost immediately after Benjamin died in captivity, sightings began to be reported.  Australia’s Animals and Birds Protection Board sent an expedition into the mountains of northwestern Tasmania, but were unable to obtain any tangible proof of the animal’s existence, with the exception of some compelling reports of sightings by locals.

New expeditions were launched in 1938 and 1945.  These were decidedly more fruitful, as they yielded footprints that were positively identified as belonging to thylacines, as well as further sightings reports.

As time went on, reports continued to come in.  In 1957, sheep started mysteriously dying, and thylacine prints were again spotted in the area, although no thylacine was spotted.  In 1968 a Tiger Center was established, to which people could report their thylacine sightings.  In the 1970s, the World Wildlife Fund that set up several automatic-camera units at locations where sightings were concentrated.  Sadly, the project turned up no evidence.  Other organizations attempted to capture footage of the thylacine throughout the 1980’s, to no avail.

In 1982, a park ranger who’d been sleeping in his car, reported an amazing sight.  In the headlights of his vehicle only 20 feet in front of him stood what he positively identified as a thylacine.  He is quoted as saying the creature was “an adult male in excellent condition, with 12 black stripes on a sandy coat.”  The area was temporarily considered protected, as officials did not want to destroy what could be the last remaining habitat of their beloved tiger.

Unfortunately, it seems that business interests overruled the conservation of the land in the area.  Many believe that the government did not want to admit to the possibility of a thylacine population in these woods, as they were part of a lucrative mining and timber operation.   Were Tasmanian Tigers to be found in existence there, the commercial interests in the area would likely have to be shut down.  No official statement was made regarding the park ranger’s sighting.

Thylacine sightings continued unabated.  In 1981, Western Australia’s Agricultural Protection Board sent Kevin Cameron, a tracker of aboriginal descent, to investigate. In 1985  Cameron produced a series of alleged photographs of a living thylacine taken in Western Australia.  His photos were professionally examined and it was determined that they were likely a hoax.

As the head of the thylacine isn’t visible in any of the photos, some speculate that Cameron used a stuffed specimen to produce his images.  Further speculation raises the question as to whether Cameron possibly shot and killed the thylacine, as a shadow of a man holding a gun is apparently evident in one of the photos.  The Cameron case remains shrouded in mystery.

Aside from questionable photographic evidence, some have claimed to have caught footage of the thylacine on video.  Below, I’ve included several of the suspected videos that purport to show evidence of Tazzie live and well.

The first video was taken in 1973.   The second is from 2009 and was captured by Murray McAllister. The third is also from McCallister.   See more about his attempts to prove the continued existence of the thylacine at his website http://www.tassietiger.org/.

The legacy of the Thylacine does not end with it’s traumatic past and ongoing sightings.  Some scientists now believe that one day… the Tasmanian Tiger could make a genuine comeback…. starting in the lab.

In a 2008 article from Scientific American,  it was reported that thylacine DNA was successfully combined with that of a mouse, resulting in the first instance of the insertion of the genetic material of an extinct animal into a living one.

“Now that we’ve shown you can do this, it opens up the floodgates for all kinds of extinct species,” says Andrew Pask, a fellow in zoology at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Whether in our collective imaginations, in remote areas of Australia, or in the laboratories of top scientists… the thylacine lives on, and will continue to capture the hearts of all those who wish to see a creature driven to extinction, or the brink thereof, resurrected..

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