The Tasmanian Tiger Essay
The Tasmanian Tiger
The Tasmanian tiger, also known as a thylacine, has most likely been extinct for about 65 years. In the nineteenth century European settlers hunted these animals because they believed the thylacines were primarily responsible for the death of their livestock. This, combined with other factors such as disease and competition from the dingo, had ultimately led to the demise of this mysterious species that was feared and misunderstood.
The thylacine, previously found in Australia, is actually a marsupial. A marsupial is closely related to a kangaroo. Like all marsupials, the Tasmanian tigers were born hairless and they crawled into their mother’s pouch until they were old enough to face the world. The pouch was designed to carry as many as four. It is believed that a normal litter would be about three babies.
Fossils and rock paintings indicate that the Tasmanian tigers used to thrive all over Australia and New Guinea. Their desired habitat was grasslands and wetlands. Some of the fossils that have been recently discovered have been estimated to be over two thousand years old.
In regard to biology and behavior, reliable information is scarce. This makes it difficult to separate truth from myth. Some data taken from 18 thylacine skeletons suggests that these animals stood approximately 14-24 inches tall at the shoulders. From the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail they were about four to six feet long. Estimated weight is between 30 and 70 pounds.
Life expectancy in the wild probably ranged from five to seven years. They were most likely nocturnal hunters. These animals almost looked like a cat crossed with a dog with stripes down its back. The African zebra duiker, which is a small antelope, carries a similar stripe patter along its back. Hunters and trappers reported the thylacines were extremely agile.
There is no evidence or reports that they worked together in hunting packs. It is believed these animals would lie in wait to ambush their pray comparable to a cat. Their diet probably consisted of birds, reptiles, and small mammals. The Tasmanian tiger perhaps did prey on some of the settlers’ livestock. On the other hand, there were also undomesticated dogs wandering around and thieves who were probably responsible for most of the loss of livestock.
In 1863, a famous naturalist named John Gould, predicted the extinction of the thylacine. He said: “When the comparatively small island of Tasmania becomes more densely populated, and its primitive forests are intersected with roads from the eastern to the western coast, the numbers of this singular animal will speedily diminish, extermination will have its full sway, and it will then, like the wolf in England and Scotland, be recorded as an animal of the past.”
The government began offering financial rewards for the scalps of adult thylacines. The money given to the bounty hunters was comparable to a half weeks pay, making it a desirable profession. The people who did kill the Tasmanian tigers were well respected members of society since the species was being blamed for killing livestock. It is said that many scalps were never even turned in for the reward because the bounty hunters would show them off like trophies and then just throw them into the woods when they started to smell. But by 1912, there were no more bounties simply because the animal had become so rare.
Once the thylacines had become scarce, zoos around the world began to take an interest in them. According to some records, there had only been one successful captive reproduction. This supposedly took place at the Melbourne Zoo in 1899. Captive Tasmanian tigers lived until they were about nine years old. At some point in the early to middle 1930’s, all captive Tasmanian tigers in zoos around the world had died out.
In 1936 the Tasmanian tiger was added to the list of protected wildlife. Unfortunately it was too late. The population never recovered. By 1986 the animal was declared extinct by international standards. The thylacine is the only mammal that has possibly gone extinct in Tasmania since the European settlement.
In 1946, there was some animal hair found in a trap in western Tasmania. Dr. Pearson from the Tasmanian Museum claimed that the hair was in fact that of a thylacine. However the lack of any hard evidence has left experts to believe that the animal is most likely extinct. It is improbable that even if there was a small population that was living in the wild in the 1930’s, it would have been able to maintain enough genetic diversity to survive in the long run.
To this day there are still reports of sightings, but all investigations have come up with nothing. Most supposed sightings occur at night, making it highly probable that witnesses aren’t really sure of what they actually saw. A thylacine could be easily mistaken for a dog or a cat in the dark.
There has been talk of cloning the Tasmanian tiger in hopes to bring the species back. Unfortunately most people do not believe this can even be done. Others point out that it is a costly and time consuming process and there are many other animals that are on the verge of extinction today that could use the attention. In 1999 DNA was successfully extracted from a Tasmanian tiger pup sample. This was an exciting breakthrough that does bring the understanding that the Tasmanian tiger could possibly be brought back in a sense.
The next step in the process is making copies of the genes so they can be used to make synthetic chromosomes. Once this step is accomplished, an embryo could then be implanted into a similar species, such as a Tasmanian devil. The effects of mixing the genes of these two breeds are unknown. In humans, very small errors in DNA can result in birth defects. So a frequently asked question is: if something is actually born, what has ultimately been created?
1. American Museum of Natural History. Tasmanian Wolf. Retrieved November 29, 2006 from http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/treasure_fossil/treasures/tasmanian_wolf/tasma nia.html?50
2. Department of Primary Industries and Water. Tasmanian Tiger. Retrieved November 30, 2006 from
3. Moeller, H.F. Gizimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.: New York.