Thursday, June 22, 2006

i know bill he's the one and i've spent three seasons trying to pretend that lynda never knew

The Thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) was a large carnivorous marsupial native to Australia. Locally, it is known as the Tasmanian Tiger or Tasmanian Wolf, and colloquially the Tassie ("tazzy") Tiger or simply the Tiger. Although it is only one of many Australian mammals to have become extinct following European settlement of the continent, it is the largest and by far the most famous.

Like the tigers and wolves of other continents (both placental carnivores and therefore not closely related to the marsupial Thylacine), the Thylacine was a top-level predator, and in size and general form quite closely resembled the Northern Hemisphere predators it was originally named after.

Contents [hide]
1 Physical description
2 Pre-History
3 First Discovered
4 Extinction
4.1 Official Searches
4.2 Official Extinction
4.3 Sightings
4.3.1 Recent claimed sightings
4.4 Rewards
5 Known Behaviours
5.1 Habitat
5.1.1 Tasmania
5.2 Diet
5.3 Other behaviours
6 Modern research and projects
6.1 Cloning project
6.2 International Thylacine Specimen Database Project
7 Tasmanian Tiger in Popular Culture
8 See also
9 References
10 External links
10.1 Cloning project

Physical description

Taxidermy specimen of Thylacine at Rothschild Zoological Museum, Tring, EnglandThe Thylacine resembled a large, short-haired dog with a stiff tail, which smoothly extended from the body like that of a kangaroo. It was about 100 to 130 cm long including its tail of about 50 to 65 cm, and had a very large gape. It was a yellowish-brown in colour with sixteen to eighteen dark stripes on its back and rump, hence its common name: "Tasmanian Tiger." The Thylacine's pouch opened to the rear of its body. In at least two male specimens a scrotal pouch, unique amongst marsupials, was also documented.

One unusual feature of the Thylacine was the ability to open its jaws to a surprising extent. Although it is most unlikely that the gape was as wide as some reports have stated (~180°), it was still the widest of any known mammal. This capability is captured in part of a short black-and-white film sequence dating from 1936 which shows a captive Thylacine in a zoo.

Fossils of Dickson's Thylacine (Nimbacinus dicksoni), the oldest ancestor of the Thylacine, found in Riversleigh, Australia date back 23 million years ago, during the Miocene epoch. This thylacinid was much smaller than its more recent relatives. The largest species was Thylacinus potens from the late Miocene, which grew to the size of a wolf. In late Pleistocene and early Holocene times, the Thylacine was widespread on the mainland. After traders from the islands to the north of the continent introduced the Dingo about five thousand years ago, the Thylacine was unable to compete and the population began to shrink. It is uncertain when the last mainland Thylacine died, but it may not have been until about a thousand years ago.

First Discovered
The animal was rare (and by today's standards vulnerable) even when the first Europeans arrived in Tasmania. It was first described in 1808, 5 years after first settlement of the island. [1] They numbered as little as 3,000 at first settlement, with the heaviest distributions in the North East, North West and North Midlands regions of the state.


The extinct Thylacine at Melbourne Museum, a work of taxidermy
Reconstruction of Thylacinus potensIn Tasmania, where there were no Dingos, the Thylacine survived until the 1930s before it was wiped out. The extinction is popularly attributed to the relentless efforts of farmers, government-funded bounty hunters (with over 2,000 scalps officially taken between 1888 to 1912) and, in its final years, collectors for overseas museums. However, in reality there were most likely multiple factors, including competition with wild dogs (introduced by settlers) and a distemper like disease (that also affected many captive specimens at the time) which was believed to have led to a sharp drop in the population around 1908, when far fewer bounties were taken. In any case, the animal had become extremely rare in the wild by the 1930s.

The last captive (captured in 1924 with mother and siblings), referred to as Benjamin (although it was a female specimen) later died in the Hobart Zoo on 1936-09-07. She is believed to have died from neglect, suffering exposure to the cold and no access to sheltered sleeping quarters. [2] A short black-and-white film was made of the captive pacing back and forth in its enclosure. The photographer was bitten on the buttock whilst taking the photograph.

Farmer Wilf Batty shot and photographed the last known wild Thylacine in 1930 in Mawbanna (believed to be a male), in the North East of the state. [3]

Official Searches
The results of various searches indicate a strong possibility of survival of the species in Tasmania into the 1960s. Searches by Dr. Eric Guiler (considered a leading authority on the species) and David Fleay in the north-west of Tasmania found possible footprint evidence and heard presumed vocalisations as well as anecdotal evidence from people presumed to have sighted the animal but no conclusive evidence of continued existence.

Official Extinction
The Thylacine held the status of Endangered Species until 1986, when it was declared extinct by international standards. Since 1936 there remains no conclusive evidence of the species' continued existence.

Although there is almost no doubt that the Thylacine is extinct, the animal has taken on cryptid status, as sightings are still occasionally claimed in both Tasmania and other parts of Australia. Of the mainland sightings, by far the most frequent, along with the Gippsland phantom cat, are in the Gippsland region of southern Victoria. [4]

There have been several alleged photos produced as evidence, but many of these are believed to have been faked.

In contrast, sightings of the Red Fox (introduced as early as 1864) in Tasmania are taken seriously. This is despite only minimal evidence (2 carcases, a scat sample and possible footprints) of the species existence in the state [5] [6]. While the Fox Free Tasmanian Taskforce receives continued government funding, all funding for the searches of the indigenous Tasmanian Tiger has ceased. The elusiveness of the fox in the vast Tasmanian wilderness gives some hope of the continued existence of the Thylacine.

Recent claimed sightings
Despite many sightings being instantly dismissed, some alleged sightings have generated a large amount of publicity.

In 1982 a researcher with the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service, Hans Narding, observed at night what he believed to be a Thylacine for three minutes at a site near Arthur River in the state's North West. The sighting began a year long government funded extensive search. [7]

In January 1995, a Parks and Wildlife officer reported observing a Thylacine in the Pyengana region of North Eastern Tasmania in the early hours of the morning. No trace of it was found. [8]

In February 2005, a German tourist claimed to have taken digital photographs of a Thylacine he saw near the Lake St Clair National Park, but the authenticity of the photographs has not been established. [9]

In March 2005, Australian news magazine The Bulletin, as part of its 125th anniversary, offered a $1.25 million reward for the safe capture of a live Thylacine. When the offer closed at the end of June 2005 no one had produced any evidence of the animal's existence. An offer of $1.75 million has subsequently been offered by a Tasmanian tour operator, Stewart Malcolm, but this is also unclaimed.

In 1984, Ted Turner offered a $100,000 reward for proof of the continued existence of the Thylacine. However, a letter sent in response to an inquiry by Thylacine-searcher Murray McAllister in 2000 indicated that the reward had been withdrawn. [10]

Known Behaviours
Surprisingly little is known about the thylacine. A few observations were made from captivity, but only limited or anecdotal research of the animal in the wild.

It is said that the Thylacine preferred to inhabit dry eucalyptus forests, wetlands, and grasslands in continental Australia. Fossils dating back 2,200 years ago and aboriginal rock paintings suggest the Wolf might have lived throughout Australia and New Guinea. A mummified carcass was discovered in a cave in the Nullarbor Plain in Western Australia, dated to around 3,300 years old provided physical proof of the animal's existence on the mainland. [11]

Scientists generally believe it became extinct in mainland Australia about 2000 years ago (and possibly earlier in New Guinea) attributed to competition from invasive Dingos. Evidence to this effect comes through the discovery of thylacine fossils in close proximity to Dingo fossils. It is believed that the two species may have even fought for the same prey.

In Tasmania it preferred the woodlands of the Midlands and Coastal Heath, which became the primary focus of British settlers seeking grazing properties for their sheep.

Like the Tasmanian Devil and its marsupial prey, the Thylacine was a nocturnal and crepuscular hunter, spending the days in a nest of twigs and bark in small caves or hollow tree trunks. It typically retreated to the hills and forest during the day for shelter and hunted in the open heath at night.

Breeding season was in winter and spring and a female would produce up to 4 cubs (typically 2 or 3 per litter), carrying the young in a pouch for up to 3 months and protecting them until at least half grown.

The Tasmanian Tiger ate a variety of foods but mainly meat because it was a carnivore.

Analysis of the skeletal frame and observation in captivity points to it singling out a target animal and doggedly pursued the target until it was exhausted. Although some studies believe that the animal may have hunted in small family groups, with the male lying in waiting to ambush while a female herded the prey in the male's general direction. ([12] and Guiler)

Prey included kangaroos, wallabies, and various small animals and birds. After European settlement the Thylacine was believed to have also opportunistically preyed upon farmers' sheep and poultry. In captivity, Thylacines were fed on dead rabbits and wallabies, which they devoured entirely, as well as beef and mutton.

Some researchers suggest that the Thylacine may have primarily devoured the blood of its victims, coining the term vampire dog and claiming a preference for the nasal, throat (jugular), stomach (kidney and liver) and groin regions, with the remaining carcass left for devils to scavenge[13].

Other behaviours
Like their relative the Devil, the tiger is believed to have possessed an acute sense of smell which enabled it to track prey for many miles. [14]

Those that saw the animal in the wild are said to have described it having a strong and distinctive smell[15]. It is possible that the animal, like its relative the Devil, which is known to give off a smell when agitated, had a similar behaviour.

Modern research and projects
Cloning project
The Australian Museum in Sydney began a project in 1999 reminiscent of the science fiction movie Jurassic Park. The goal was to use genetic material from specimens taken and preserved in the early 20th century to clone new individuals and restore the species from extinction. In late 2002 the researchers had some success as they were able to extract usable DNA from the specimens. On 2005-02-15, the museum announced that it was stopping the project after tests showed the specimens' DNA had been too badly degraded by the ethanol preservative.

In May 2005, Professor Michael Archer, the University of New South Wales Dean of Science, former director of the Australian Museum and evolutionary biologist, announced that the project was being restarted by a group of interested universities and a research institute.

International Thylacine Specimen Database Project
The International Thylacine Specimen Database (ITSD) was completed in April 2005 and is the culmination of a four year research project to catalogue and digitally photograph, if possible, all the known surviving specimen material held within museum, university and private collections of the Thylacine.

Tasmanian Tiger in Popular Culture
The Thylacine has been used extensively as a symbol of Tasmania. The animal is featured on the official Tasmanian Coat of Arms. It is used in the official logos of Tourism Tasmania (using the mystery of the tiger to draw tourists) and the Launceston City Council. The plight of the Thylacine was featured in a Wilderness Society campaign titled we used to hunt Thylacines. The animal is featured on Cascade Brewery beer products and television advertisements. A popular video game features a Tasmanian Tiger character called Ty the Tasmanian Tiger. The animal is the mascot for Tasmanian Tigers state cricket team.


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