Sightings of Supposedly Extinct Tasmanian Tiger Rattle Scientists

Fagjun | Published 2017-03-28 05:47

Color photo of a pair of thylacines

The Tasmanian tiger (also known as thylacines) died out 80 years ago, but news of “plausible” sightings of the extinct animals are making the rounds.

The last known wild thylacine was shot by a farmer in 1930. The last thylacine in captivity died in 1936. There have been about 3,800 sightings of the animal on file since then. These sightings, however, remain unconfirmed.

Recently, another report of a thylacine sighting in Queensland, Australia have caught the interest of scientists at James Cook University. Though scientists have declared the animal to be extinct in the 30s, a new search for the remnants of the species is in the works.

A photo of "Benjamin", the last thylacine (1933)

Bill Laurance, a professor at James Cook University, reportedly spoke to two individuals who say they saw what might be a group of thylacines. One of these two individuals had been an employee at Queensland National Parks Service. Apparently, their descriptions of what they saw were inconsistent with descriptions of animals similar to thylacines. Thus, they were unlikely to have seen a dingo or a wild dog.

Zoology or Cryptozoology?

The Tasmanian tiger has reached a somewhat legendary status due to the thousands of sightings. It's almost at par with cryptids, which are supposed animals or creatures whose “existence” relies mostly relies on anecdotal evidence. People who report sightings of cryptids are not often taken seriously.

Because of this, the individuals who reported a thylacine sighting were understandably wary of coming forward. Their identities remain confidential, as does the exact location of the thylacine sighting. However, their descriptions have had enough detail that they warranted the attention of scientists.

An ultra-rare photo of a thylacine with a distended pouch carrying its young (1889)

Even so, these scientists are managing their expectations. They admit that they probably won't capture a live Tasmanian tiger on film. “I’m not ruling it out at all, but to actually get them on camera will be incredibly lucky,” says Sandra Abell, a researcher at James Cook University.

However, even if the search proves to be futile in finding a live thylacine, it won't be a complete waste. “It is a low possibility that we’ll find thylacines, but we’ll certainly get lots of data on the predators in the area and that will help our studies in general,” Abel adds.

Too Little, Too Late for the Tasmanian Tiger

A family of thylacines at the Beaumaris Zoo (1910)

One thing we do have to consider is that Tasmanian tigers went extinct on the Australian mainland 2,000 years ago. The last of these thylacines lived on the island of Tasmania. Why would these supposed remnants of this species be in a place where they had been extinct for two millennia?

However the search for the Tasmanian tiger goes, it has the potential to turn people's attentions to conservation efforts. The Tasmanian government in the early 20th century had a chance to save this species. However, political issues prevented them from doing so. They declared an official protection of the species nearly two months after the last thylacine in captivity died.

Thus, new interest in the Tasmanian tiger may be able to underline the importance of conservation efforts. Maybe governments around the world will learn a lesson from this species's extinction: don't wait until it's too late.

Reference

Paddle, R. (2000). The Last Tasmanian Tiger: the History and Extinction of the Thylacine. Cambridge University Press.

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