New research will investigate if the Tasmanian tiger is completely extinct. The dog-like marsupial known as thylacine is reportedly extinct since the 1930s, but recent alleged sightings of the marsupial convinced researchers at James Cook University in Australia to investigate these claims.
The last wild Tasmanian tiger was killed between 1910 and 1930, and the last known thylacine in captivity died in 1936 in the Hobart Zoo in Tasmania, Australia.
Ever since, no evidence showed that remaining thylacines were living in the wild, and in 1986 the species was declared officially extinct by the Tasmanian Government’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water, and Environment.
Tasmanian tigers sightings in Queensland, Australia
However, rumors of Tasmanian tigers spottings on the wild have persisted. Recent reports from two people in Queensland, Australia, provided enough details, so scientists at James Cook University decided to launch an investigation to look for the elusive animal.
“One of those observers was a long-time employee of the Queensland National Parks Service, and the other was a frequent camper and outdoorsman in north Queensland,” shared researchers Dr. Sandra Abell and Professor Bill Laurence in a statement published on March 24 at the James Cook University website. “All observations of putative Thylacines to date have been at night, and in one case four animals were observed at close range -about 20 feet away- with a spotlight.”
Despite the “Tiger” name, thylacines are not members of the feline family, nor they are related to the Tasmanian devil family, which is another marsupial living in Australia and with major predominance in Tasmania.
Fossil evidence of the Tasmanian tiger suggests that the last thylacines – Thylacinus cynocephalus, which means dog-headed pouched one – appeared about 4 million years ago. The thylacines were spread across Australia, but the animal disappeared everywhere except Tasmania 2,000 years ago. Then, following European settlement in Australia in the 19th century, the remaining Tasmanian tigers, which researchers estimate were around 5,000 animals, became nearly extinct due to hunting, diseases, and habitat loss, according to the National Museum of Australia (NMA).
Hunting mostly caused thylacine extinction
The thylacine was the world’s largest carnivore marsupial and was commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger due to the stripes on its back. The thylacines had a reputation for being fierce, although the animals were semi-nocturnal and were described as shy, usually avoiding human contact.
Fossil remains of thylacines have been found in Papua New Guinea, Australia, and Tasmania. According to the NMA, the establishment of colonies in Tasmania in the 19th century led to the creation of the first farming industries in Tasmania. The farmers bred livestock like sheep and cattle, and although evidence pointed feral dogs – like dingos – and mismanagement was responsible for the stock losses, the farmers blamed the thylacines. This led to a massive hunt for the marsupials, and in 1830 bounty systems for the thylacine were established. In 1888, the Tasmanian government introduced a bounty of £1 for every grown thylacine killed and 10 shillings for every young killed.
The bounty program lasted until 1909, with the Tasmanian government awarding over 2,180 bounties. Researchers estimate that humans killed over 3,500 thylacines between 1830 and the 1920s. The last known shooting of a wild thylacine occurred in 1930, and authorities from zoological and scientific communities became concerned about the state of the thylacine population. However, the actions to preserve the species came too late and after the death of “Benjamin,” the last thylacine in Hobart Zoo – which apparently died from neglection -, the species was believed to be extinct.
The hunt for the thylacine begins in April
The new JMU investigation will survey sites on the Cape York Peninsula, located in Far North Queensland, Australia, where the camper and Queensland National Parks employee sighted the alleged Tasmanian tigers. The Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science (TESS) from James Cook University will fund the survey.
“We have cross-checked the descriptions we received of eye-shine color, body size and shape, animal behavior, and other attributes, and these are inconsistent with known attributes of other large-bodied species in North Queensland, such as dingoes, wild dogs or feral pigs,” explained Professor Laurence in the statement.
The scientists will use 50 camera traps, and the survey is expected to begin in April, once the researchers have secured the proper permits from private landowners. The researchers said that the two observances provided specific details on the locations of the sightings, although they didn’t disclose such locations as everything on the research is being handled with strict confidence.
Laurence added that the hunt for the thylacines would also permit them to investigate on the status of other vulnerable or threatened mammals in the Queensland area, which in recent years have been undergoing severe population declines.