Aug 9

The enigmatic thylacine has long been a source of great intrigue, ever since the last captive individual, known as Benjamin, passed away in 1936. The New York Times recently featured an interesting article by Sean B. Carroll, a biologist from the University of Wisconsin, about his quest to rediscover evidence of the thylacine’s existence in the form of an ancient rock painting in Kakadu National Park in Australia, so here at the ARKive office we decided to take a closer look at this unusual creature.

Thylacine photo

The remarkable thylacine - check out that yawn!

The thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian tiger after the distinct brown stripes that ran from its upper back to its tail, once ranged throughout Tasmania, mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea, although it may have been lost from the latter two locations more than 2,000 years ago. While the reasons for its disappearance from Australia and Papua New Guinea remain unclear, many people speculate that it was due to competition with a newly introduced species of Asian dog, the dingo.

Dingo photo

The dingo is widely believed to have contributed to the loss of the thylacine from mainland Australia

In Tasmania however, without the pressure of competition from dingos, the thylacine was still widespread at the time of European colonisation. Sadly, by the middle of the 20th Century the species had been persecuted to extinction by a long-running eradication campaign, with the last recorded killing of a wild individual in 1930. Thylacines were the first to be blamed for killing sheep and the hunting of them was actively encouraged, with the Tasmanian government paying bounties for thylacine skins between 1888 and 1909.

Thylacine photo

The last captive thylacine survived in Hobart Zoo until 1936

The extinction of the thylacine was particularly sad as it was such a distinctive and remarkable species. Despite its dog-like appearance, the thylacine was actually a marsupial, a type of mammal that gives birth to relatively undeveloped young which then continue their development inside the mother’s pouch. Standing at roughly the size of a Doberman, the thylacine was the world’s largest marsupial carnivore and fed on a diet including small rodents, birds, and even kangaroos. Perhaps the most surprising feature of the thylacine was its ability to open its jaw incredibly wide; on some accounts up to 180°! Whilst it is highly unlikely that its yawn was quite that wide, the gape was still the widest of any mammal, and is surpassed only by that of the snake.

Thylacine photo

The thylacine's distinctive striped pattern earned it the name the Tasmanian tiger

ARKive hosts the only footage of the last thylacine, generously donated by the Archives Office of Tasmania.

Shelley Alingas, Wildscreen USA Program Assistant