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Dog-like predator with kangaroo pouch, believed extinct since 1930s, possibly lived till 2000s

Last known thylacine or Tasmanian tiger died in captivity in an Australian zoo in 1936. New study suggests the animal possibly survived up until a few decades ago.

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Bengaluru: The evasive Thylacine goes by many names in its native Tasmania, including the Tasmanian tiger and the Tasmanian wolf. The animal was native to mainland Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea; it was the largest known carnivorous marsupial. 

The last member of its species was captured by humans in the 1930s and died in captivity in 1936; the species was thought to have gone extinct shortly after. 

Along with the dodo and the passenger pigeon, it is considered to be one of the biggest symbols of human-induced extinction. 

However, a new study documents thousands of verified and unverified sightings of the animal since 1910 up until the early 2000s, and concludes that the animal might have survived up until a couple of decades ago. 

The study, currently under review, performed a detailed reconstruction and mapping of the spatio-temporal (space and time) distribution dynamics, and suggests that there is an unlikely chance the animal might persist in the wild today. The authors also conclude that such modelling is important to preserve other rare and unusual species currently on the verge of extinction. 

The last known thylacine photographed at Beaumaris Zoo | Wikimedia commons
The last known thylacine photographed at Beaumaris Zoo | Wikimedia commons

History and extinction

Before Tasmania was colonised in the 1800s, the small island to the south of Australia was a secure habitat for the thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus). The animal had already gone extinct in mainland Australia as a part of a larger wave of megafauna extinctions (dying of animals larger than 50kg) beginning about 10,000 to 5,000 years ago. 

In the 19th century, the animal was hunted rampantly by fur traders and as a means to protect humans from their predatory nature. They were also threatened by the introduction of dogs to Tasmania, which both competed with their prey, like emus, as well as hunted the animal. 

The last captive member of the species died in Australia’s Hobart Zoo on 7 September 1936, and the date is now commemorated annually as ‘Threatened Species Day’ in Australia. Fifty years later, in 1986, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) formally declared the thylacine extinct. 

However, there have been many unconfirmed sightings since the 1930s in the Tasmanian wilderness, especially from former trappers, poachers and members of indigenous tribes. Some authorities too have reported sightings, and there have been many high profile searches for the animal over the past few decades. 


Also read: Global ice melt accelerating at record rate, finds new study


Study findings

The researchers prepared a comprehensive database of sightings since 1910, traced their sources, geotagged them, confirmed their veracity and citations with support, obtained photographic and video evidence, and tallied all of them with government records to map the spatio-temporal distribution of the animal.

The result was 1,237 separate sightings, with 99 physical records of the animal and 429 observations made by experts. Of these, 271 actual sightings were made by experts who were professionally familiar with the animal, like former trappers, forest officials, scientists, and even bushmen. The animal was reported to have been sighted every year since 1910, except in 1921, 2008, and 2013. 

The last unverified sighting was in 2019.

While mapping the sightings, the researchers were able to deduce a pattern of local losses through shrinking habitat, starting in places where agriculture and animal farming was widespread. 

By the 1990s, the animal had shrunk in the wilderness as well, owing to human activity, dogs, and disease. The researchers state that the animal most likely became extinct in 1998. 

Convergent evolution

The thylacine is a textbook example of what is known as convergent evolution. 

In evolutionary biology, convergent evolution is the independent evolution of very similar physical features and traits in species that are separated by space or time. 

The thylacine, which is endemic only to the Southern Hemisphere, eventually evolved to look like dogs or wolves that were not natively found in this part of the world. Dingos or native Australian dogs originally came to the continent from Asia with traders, and are thought to have been a driving force for the thylacine’s extinction. Thylacines were also similarly sized to dogs, and weighed between 20 to 30kg as adults, with an average length of 45 inches and a height of 20 inches. 

The thylacine also evolved to have tiger-like stripes that radiated from the top of its back, which provided it with camouflage. The animal had soft fur, for which it was hunted. Its coat coloration had various shades of brown and its belly was white or cream coloured.

Both canids (wolf or dog-like animals) and tigers have placentas but the thylacine is a marsupial, which evolved to have an external pouch, like kangaroos and koalas. It also had a stiff tail like the kangaroo, which it was able to use to prop itself up on its hind legs. 

But unlike kangaroos, the thylacine was a carnivorous marsupial, like the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii). It was the largest of its kind and was an apex predator. The animal was also able to open its extremely muscular jaws up to nearly 80 degrees for catching and carrying large prey. 

However, while its genome is sequenced, its genetic history traced, and some inactive genes also activated in specimens, much is still unknown about this evasive and extinct animal, including the nature of its primary prey and hunting habits.  

Researchers encourage the use of camera traps and other digital technology to scout for any remaining individuals of the species. 

Such technology has worked in the past to identify live animals that were thought to be extinct, such as the Zanzibar leopard. The new study, yet to be peer-reviewed, is likely to provide useful assistance to both identifying any potential members left in the wild as well as protect other vulnerable species. 


Also read: Dinosaur fossils found in Argentina could be of the largest animal ever lived on Earth


 

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46 COMMENTS

  1. The best way to resurrect the Thylacine may seem counter intuitive, but is the only hope.: promote a hunt with a very ample reward. This way, you would have more dedicated searchers than ever before. With the science of cloning what it is, there would be little difficulty using samples from fresh carcasses implanted in Tasmanian devils.
    Some might be negative about the thought of killing a newly found Thylacine, but the only issue is whether we want to reestablish the species.

  2. Just the fact Joey that you said such harsh words about people from other places make you an idiot. There is bad people every where. And yes I feel like like all the cruelty that someone does to these poor animals should be given to them so they can feel the same fate if not worse fate. Animals act on instinks and hunger. Humans act on greed and imusement . trophies to be collected.

  3. It’s sad, and the dodo bird were tortured and killed off and the reason they were friendly and enjoyed being around people

  4. It so sad that we have so many Money and property seeking people. We are here to protect the animals. we are all part of one eco system and need to respect all living things. Just look at the world ,we are in now its going to s… !!!
    Its time to make a difference, don’t think because your one person you can’t because you can. The small thing’s like planting a tree or vegetation. Its not hard just to take care of the Planet you are living on.

  5. That Tasmanian western wilderness world heritage area is 1.2 million square kilometres of incredibly remote and difficult terrain with virtually no people. I think there is always possibility it still lives on.

  6. I agree with Kelly about Joey. Being a Tassie born and bred I cry about the loss of all creatures which is why I am one of many who give their time to help sick and or injured creatures in hope to rerelease them.

  7. I’m so very sorry we humans cause so much damage to this awesome planet…..but in reality this old, old world is changing as it’s supposed to. I’m sorry we contribute to the loss of some life with our stupidity and greed, but this world is going to do what it’s meant to do whether we help or not….it’s reality and what we have done is insignificant to what’s going to happen eventually to this planet we call our home. In other words what will be will be no matter if we help or not….

    • Spoken like someone truly determined to disconnect from their responsibilities.

      It’ll happen anyway, why bother putting off the inevitable, right?

      Or,

      Work is hard and I’ll die one day anyway, might at well shoot myself.

      Same logic, different scale.

  8. Our government will let people kill and kill till nothing’s left. As long as they get a big payday from the extinctions, they turn away and grab with closed eyes.

  9. It is true humans are a bunch of douchebags, that only care about cash. The government will allow anything if they get their cut . And that my friend is the end of story. Nothing matters but. CASH !!!! Our govt. Blows . From the top down. Sad but true

  10. Humanity has so much more to learn from all animals. For one we all need to coexist with nature and not get upset when wild animals come on to our so called property. Most wildlife are adapting and changing right before our eyes and mainly to survive.

  11. You said it Kell. Joey is a total waste of skin.
    It’s people like him that should be put down for the sake of humanity. Grizz,Ab.Canada.

  12. I have seen this animal beleive it or not. It was in Groveland Florida near the Green Swamp forest. I lived off a road next to the forest and swamp area and I was coming home from work about 11pm. It crossed in front of my car headed toward the swamp. I had never seen anything like it. I looked it up and realized it was suppose to be extinct. So this tells me it is not extinct.

  13. One a higher predator will pray on us and then we will feel what all animals have felt like. Until then we will be feeling bad about what we to the animal kingdom.

  14. How did you completely skip one of the big drivers to their extinction- disease?! We have known for a long time now that disease contributed greatly to their extinction. Did you not do any research? It really makes me doubt the quality of your journalism that it wasn’t even mentioned.

  15. This story is so damn sad it made me cry. Just look at the poor thing screaming behind bars in a zoo. Yes humans are Caesar humans are terrible.

  16. If they are alive…. Martin and Chris Kratt are going to go insane.

    They did a Wild Kratts episode on Tazzy Tigers.

    Omg! they are going to be the happiest brothers on the planet. 😃

  17. Hate to break your heart but America is no damn better all kinds of Critters in this country about to be extinct this is this land called the land of the stupid we got a beautiful country that’s going to hell in a handbasket because our leaders don’t give a s*** about nothing but pocketing money so whatever

  18. Human are Really terrible how can Humans cause such a Damage to God Creation .I Hate this word Extint. Mean for Ever .makes me so Sad Nothing Ever done to Stop it.

    • Some humans are terrible, but ALL Tasmanians are particularly awful. Really, really terrible people. Even Australians (natural-born criminals, the entire lot) don’t want to be around them, so they exiled all of them to a dusty rock in Australia’s crotch.
      If you ever see a Tasmanian, call the authorities immediately.

        • Ever seen the bounty hangings of cats and dogs they’ve poisoned and shot on their farm gates? And yes these are domesticated animals that are killed as well as anything wild.
          You try to tell a landowner that they shouldn’t shoot at any and all things that look like dogs and cats and foxes and yes, the Tasmanian tiger, they will probably threaten to shoot you for “violating” their “rights”. Disgusting behaviour of people that have historically stolen land territory from the aboriginal populace in the first place.

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