78 years ago today, the last thylacine, or “Tasmanian tiger”, died in a zoo. It was a carnivorous marsupial (one of only two marsupial species in which both sexes had pouches), and you can read all about it at The Thylacine Museum. There’s also some photos and information on Wikipedia, including this:
The thylacine had become extremely rare or extinct on the Australian mainland before British settlement of the continent, but it survived on the island of Tasmania along with several other endemic species, including theTasmanian devil. Intensive hunting encouraged by bounties is generally blamed for its extinction, but other contributing factors may have been disease, the introduction of dogs, and human encroachment into its habitat. Despite its official classification as extinct, sightings are still reported, though none have been conclusively proven.
Surviving evidence suggests that it was a relatively shy, nocturnal creature with the general appearance of a medium-to-large-size dog, except for its stiff tail and abdominal pouch (which was reminiscent of a kangaroo) and a series of dark transverse stripes that radiated from the top of its back (making it look a bit like a tiger).
His (or her, as we’re unsure of the sex) name was Benjamin, and, remarkably, there’s a bit of video to show us what the species looked like.
A bit about Benjamin from The Tylacine Museum:
Some sightings of thylacines are still reported (but unconfirmed), and there’s a $250,000 reward for good evidence that the species still exists. I strongly doubt it, so let us mourn the loss of Benjamin as we mourned the loss of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, who died on Sept. 1, 1914.
h/t: Ross Barnett via Matthew Cobb
30 thoughts on “Another sad anniversary”
The Hunter (2011) dir Daniel Nettheim, based on the Julia Leigh novel and starring Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill and Frances O’Connor, is a movie based on the possibility of finding a surviving thylacine. I loved it, though I’m not sure how well it did at the box office.
Oh, here’s the IMDB link for the movie.
If you chat to the locals in Tasmania, you’ll find many people who think the thylacine still exists, and who know of someone who saw one fairly recently. Not that that’s proof of anything, but it provides some hope.
Wouldn’t that _lower_ hopes? If many people think it exists, they are circulating and even inventing stories by amplification. (From “NN believe he/she saw” to “believe NN saw” to “NN saw”.)
The “know of someone who saw one” is a classic giveaway of rumors without substance, is it not!?
Yeah, it’s rather like bigfoot sightings in the US.
Moreover, if people are that interested, and no evidence appears, it is bad. (Akin to Ben’s take in the “Jesus Challenge” recently.)
There’s a site dedicated to collecting sightings —
I notice that several people report sightings in Victoria, even residential areas, which, sadly, really is about as likely as the bigfoot.
Well stone the crows, I didn’t know both sexes had pouches, you learn something new every day. Poor Tasmanian tiger, it would be wonderful if there were some left. It is certainly possible as there are large swathes of country with nothing and no-one in them.
A population of medium-sized mammals produces a significant quantity of scats, tracks, hairs, and skeletons that can hang around for years or decades in sheltered spots. Unless all the people that wander into the Tassie bush looking are incompetent (or paranoid and secretive), evidence would definitely have been found by now. Unless I’m wrong.
You probably aren’t wrong, but I feel there is room for a little bit of hope.
The thylacine is often used to illustrate convergent evolution. Comparing a thylacine skull with a wolf skull shows an amazing degree of similarity. The only big differences I see are the # of teeth and openings in the palate.
Also the big processes at the back of the lower jaw on thylacines, the non-narrowing nasal bones and – really quite striking – the tiny brain case of the thylacine
Very mammal. Looks to be in need of an ear rub at the least, probably a belly rub, too.
Damn fucking shame what we’ve done to this lovely home of ours….
This dog like creature is a remarkable case of convergent evolution. But also strong evidence that evolution is true and I will explain why. All dogs for instance have a dew claw .. A vestigial 5th digit.
So I was curious to see if the thylacine creature also had a dew claw (the creationists love to say common design common creator).
It would be extremely remarkable and unlikely for evolution to not also converged body type but also to the precise details of the standard dog vestigial dew claw.
As I expected the thylacine DOES NOT have a dew claw. This is exactly what we would expect under convergent evolution. You get some similar looking patterns but you wont find every single detail to be exactly the same. This is strong evidence that it did indeed evolve separately as a marsupial.
Evidence for the 5 digits resting firmly on the ground ( no dew claw)
The thylacine’s postcranial anatomy is not especially dog-like, and in fact this animal is more generalized in its limb anatomy than any placental cursorial predator.
Dewclaws occur in various mammals that do a lot of walking, but are also seen in dinosaurs. For mammals, we see them in dogs and cats (present in front, absent in the rear), and in hooved mammals. In any case, the presence of dewclaws in a marsupial and in placental mammals could mean convergent evolution, or retention of a primitive character.
Strictly speaking, a “dew claw” is the remnant of the first digit (thumb or big toe): none is retained in any hoofed mammal. Perhaps you’re thinking of the retention of the distal end of the lateral digits 2 and 4 in some ruminants.
And I think cutting off their dew claws is cruel and serves no practical purpose. Show dogs often have their dew claws cut off as puppies. I’m glad my dog didn’t at least suffer through that.
Feline digital mutilation is horrific. The canine version deserves equal condemnation.
…same with tail docking. I mean, what the fuck’s the point of being a d*g if you don’t have a tail to wag?
Yeah, I feel bad for the poor dogs trying to wag their little stumpy tails!
A beautiful animal. Humanity should hang its head in shame.
A beautiful animal. Humanity should hang its head in shame.
Although perhaps we should hang our heads even more in shame over the fact that, by the late 19th century, the European immigrants had managed to exterminate the Tasmanian indigenes.
I totally agree with both of you. We should be ashamed of our species, in instances like these.
I was at a museum (I think) in Hawaii once & the display talked about what I would call “Captain Cooker” pigs, which Captain Cook (I always want to write “Captain Hook” & thought the two were interchangeable when I was a kid) dropped off for hunting & eating later when they returned. I remarked that the first thing European humans did, on showing up in Hawaii, was to mess up the environment. Not that it was always Europeans but in this case, the pigs made a mess of things.
Disease likely did 80% of the damage, the Europeans then consciously performed the finishing blow.
AIUI, recent (last 10-20 years) historical studies about the North American natives shows the same is likely true there – that there was a massive depopulation event across the continent after contact with the first Europeans, but well before those Europeans started their conquest drives across what is now the US. IOW, they met us, contracted our diseases, most of them died, then we took the continent by conquest.
It’s so sad. When I visited the Australian Museum in Sydney, there was a whole section devoted to extinct animals & this one made me the saddest for its uniqueness and the extinction having happened relatively recently.
I saw a good exhibit on the thylacine when I was in Hobart. One of the last victims of the Pliestocene collision between H.Sapiens and world fauna. To the detriment of the latter. The Aussies lost all their megafauna and many smaller species on the way. There was a similar pattern in New Zealand after humans reached it for the first time around 1280 AD.
Earth’s greatest richness is its biodiversity yet most of us destroy that richness stupidly unaware that in so doing, we are irrevocably impoverishing ourselves.
What a wonderful looking animal. Just amazing. I think that our responsibility for this creatures’ demise makes it doubly important that we spend the resources needed to help the Tasmanian Devil come through the current face-cancer epidemic intact. It would be a shame if we let a second such unique Tasmanian species die on our watch.