Thylacine

Doglike MARSUPIAL of Australia, presumed extinct since 1936.

Etymology: From the Greek thylakos ("leather pouch").

Scientific name: Thylacinus cynocephalus, given by C. J. Temminck in 1824.

Variant names: Dobsegna, Marsupial wolf, Nannup tiger (in Western Australia), Ozenkad-nook tiger (in Victoria), Tasmanian tiger, Tassie tiger, Waldagi, Wonthaggi monster (in Victoria).

Physical description: Large, doglike marsupial. Shoulder height, 2 feet. Length, about 3 feet 6 inches-4 feet 6 inches. Weight, 65-75 pounds. Head large in proportion to the body. The face is gray, with white markings around the eyes. Ears, short and rounded. Its huge jaws open to an angle of nearly 90 degrees. Has thirteen to nineteen vertical, brown-black stripes on its back, rump, and tail. Yellow-brown to grayish-brown in color. A few reports, particularly from Western Australia, refer to animals that either lack stripes or are all black. Short legs. Tail is stiff and 2 feet long, and it tapers to a point.

Behavior: Nocturnal but has been seen to bask in the sun. Quiet and secretive. Its usual gait is a graceful lope. Some witnesses claim it is capable of rearing on its hind legs and hopping like a kangaroo when threatened. Usually mute but produces a terrier-like double yap when hunting, a deep growl when irritated, and a whine. Feeds on wallabies, small animals, and birds. It was thought to kill livestock, but this was never substantiated.

Tracks: Four toes pointing outward, with claws showing. Sometimes, the impression of

Jack Rabbit Behavior
Head ofthe THYLACINE (Thylacinus cynocephalus). (Drawing by Jack Rabbit © 2001)

the fifth toe on the front feet is visible. The plantar pad is longer and wider and the side toes are less set back than a dog's. Trail goes in a straight line, unlike a wombat's, which shuffles from side to side.

Habitat: Eucalyptus forests, wetlands, and grasslands.

Distribution: The greatest concentration of Tasmanian reports are in the northeast of the island, near Mount William and Mount Barrow. On the mainland, favored areas are the Darling Range in southwest Western Australia, South Australia from Murray Bridge to Mount Gambier, and southeastern Victoria from Lang Lang to Lake Victoria.

Significant sightings: In Tasmania—In May 1937, Ray Marthick found tracks and briefly saw a group of Thylacines at dusk.

A. L. Fleming and Lesley Williams ran across tracks in western Tasmania in 1937 and 1938.

David Fleay collected some firsthand stories and found tracks on Franklin Hill and Poverty Plain in 1945.

Bushmen B. Thorpe and A. Woolley watched a Thylacine chase a wallaby near the Denison River in southwest Tasmania in December 1947. The gray, striped animal passed within 20 yards of them.

In January 1958, tracks were found in mud between Point Davey and Muydena.

Steven Smith documented 315 Thylacine sightings in Tasmania between 1936 and 1980,

Thylacine Sightings

of which he categorized 103 as "good." One of the best sightings took place near the headwaters of the Salmon River in the early morning of March 9, 1982, when naturalist Hans Naarding watched an adult Thylacine for three minutes in the pouring rain from the back of his Land-cruiser. The animal ran off when he moved for his camera. He could find no tracks, but the animal left a strong, musky scent behind.

In 1986, Turk Porteous saw a blue-gray female Thylacine with sixteen well-defined stripes at Arthur River in northwestern Tasmania. He followed its tracks and found the prints of two juveniles. As a boy in the 1920s, he had often seen Thylacine tracks.

On mainland Australia—Tony Healy and Paul Cropper estimate there have been about 500 thylacine sightings on the mainland prior to 1994.

Southeastern South Australia produced a flood of reports in 1967 and 1968, most of them conforming to the animal's description and behavior. Barbara Adams and her four children watched two Thylacine pups at play near Frances on November 1, 1974; they were about a foot high and sandy-colored, with dark markings on the flanks. Numerous sightings also occurred to the southeast on Cape Nelson, Victoria, in the early 1970s.

A striped creature has often been reported in the area around Wonthaggi, southern Victoria. The name "Wonthaggi monster" was invented in 1955 by local journalists when an unusual number of sheep were killed by an unknown predator and people began seeing a Thylacine-like animal. Rose Bristow watched a striped, doglike animal at a range of only 30 feet near Woolmai in March 1987.

Doglike animals have been reported in the Victoria—South Australia border area, especially from 1962 to 1965. The sightings centered on a swampy area near Ozenkadnook, in Victoria's Wimmera District. A photograph taken by Rilla Martin near Goroke, Victoria, in 1964 shows a striped animal partially hidden by vegetation. The stripes seem to cover its neck and shoulders, which is uncharacteristic, but in general, it looks much like a Thylacine.

Western Australia south of Perth has also been a focal point for Thylacine reports. In this

548 THYLACINE

Isdal Woman Body
Photograph taken by Rilla Martin near Goroke, Victoria, in 1964, of what may be a surviving THYLACINE on the Australian mainland.. (Fortean Picture Library)

area, the animals are said to be responsible for killing sheep and kangaroos by tearing their heads off. A striped, doglike animal, possibly a Thy-lacine, was reported in the early 1970s in the forested Nannup District. One incident in November 1972 involved Freda and Joe Carmody, who saw a large creature leap across the road in front of their car; they were convinced it was a Thylacine. On January 13, 1984, Kevin Cameron snapped six photos of a Thylacine sitting on a log about 30 feet away from him somewhere near Yoongarillup; unfortunately, significant inconsistencies were found in his testimony, and frames were shown to be missing from the film.

In the spring of 1995, dentist Lance Mesh and his daughter saw an apparent Thylacine while driving along the southern slopes of the Buderim rain forest in Queensland. At least fifteen sightings were reported in the state in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In New Guinea—See Dobsegna.

Present status: Thylacines are thought to have become extinct on the Australian mainland sometime between 1000 B.C. and 1788 when Capt. James Cook arrived. They disappeared largely due to competition with dingos, which were introduced some 8,000 years ago. A thriving population persisted in Tasmania until sheep farming was introduced in 1824 and the animal was deemed a pest and vigorously exterminated. The last known Thylacine died in the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania, on September 7, 1936. According to Robert Paddle, the tradition that it was a male named Benjamin is wrong on both counts.

Several organized searches for the animal have been undertaken in Tasmania—most notably by David Fleay in 1945, Eric Guiler in 1959 and 1963, Jeremy Griffith in 1968, Steven Smith in 1980, and Nick Mooney in 1982—

but all apparently failed to find conclusive evidence of its continued existence. However, new Thylacine reports surface every year, and many scientists think it's only a matter of time before a living specimen is obtained.

The Australian Museum has a small Thy-lacine pup preserved in alcohol since 1866. In May 2000, the museum announced it had extracted DNA from the specimen and, opening a debate on whether the animal should be cloned, speculated that with genetic technology advancing rapidly, the Tasmanian tiger could be resurrected within ten years. Possible explanations:

(1) Wombat (Family vombatidae) tracks can be mistaken for Thylacine tracks under poor conditions. The tracks of Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) might also pass for Thylacine prints.

(2) Misidentifications of dingos or feral Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) have probably occurred.

(3) One problem with accepting mainland Thylacine reports is the almost complete lack of Aboriginal traditions about them. However, Thylacines could have been brought from Tasmania and released sometime before 1936, when the animals became extinct.

Sources: Eric R. Guiler, "In Pursuit of the Thylacine," Oryx 8 (1966): 307-310; Quentin Beresford and Garry Bailey, Search for the Tasmanian Tiger (Hobart, Tasm., Australia: Blubber Head Press, 1981); Malcolm Smith, "Review of the Thylacine (Marsupalia, Thylacinidae)," in Michael Archer, ed., Carnivorous Marsupials (Mosman, N.S.W., Australia: Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, 1982), vol. 1, pp. 237-253; Michael Goss, "Tracking Tasmania's Mystery Beast," Fate 36 (July 1983): 34-43; Eric R. Guiler, Thylacine: The Tragedy of the Tasmanian Tiger (Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press, 1985); "Thylacine Reports Persist after 50 Years," ISC Newsletter 4, no. 4 (Winter 1985): 1-5; Athol M. Douglas, "Tigers in Western Australia?" New Scientist 110 (April 24, 1986): 44-47; Sid Slee, The Haunt of the Marsupial Wof (Busselton,

W. Australia: Sid Slee, 1987); Athol M. Douglas, "The Thylacine: A Case for Current Existence on Mainland Australia," Cryptozoology 9 (1990): 13-25; Tony Healy and Paul Cropper, Out of the Shadows: Mystery Animals of Australia (Chippendale, N.S.W., Australia: Ironbark, 1994), pp. 3-54; Malcolm Smith, Bunyips and Bigfoots: In Search of Australia's Mystery Animals (Alexandria, N.S.W., Australia: Millennium, 1996), pp. 94-114; Eric Guiler and Philippe Godard, Tasmanian Tiger: A Lesson to Be Learnt (Perth, W. Australia: Abrolhos, 1998); Robert Paddle, The Last Tasmanian Tiger: The History and Extinction of the Thylacine (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Col Bailey, Tiger Tales (Sydney, Australia: HarperCollins, 2001); Scott Weidensaul, The Ghost with Trembling Wings (New York: North Point Press, 2002), pp. 229-279; C. Campbell, The Thylacine Museum, http:// www.naturalworlds.org/thylacine/.

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