The thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, is an allegedly extinct species of doglike marsupial.
By the early 1900s Thylacines were rare creatures, and the last scalp bounty was paid in 1909. The last reported killing of a Tasmanian Tiger was in 1930. The thylacine was given protected status in 1933, but by that time it was too late, and the last thylacine found alive was captured and sent to the Hobart Domain Zoo just two months after the rare animal became a protected species.
This last thylacine, named Benjamin, died on September 7, 1936 after just 3 years in captivity. The people of Australia and Tasmania mourned the loss of the last Tasmanian Tiger.
The Tasmanian Tiger closely resembled a dog, but was actually a carnivorous marsupial belonging to the same family as the kangaroo and Tasmanian devil.
The male thylacine would reach 6 feet in length from head to tail and weigh upwards of 45 pounds while the females where slightly smaller. The fur of the thylacine was coarse and sandy brown until about mid back where distinctive stripes began. These stripes, like those of a tiger, ran down to the tail, which was long, thin, inflexible and did not wag.
Like other marsupials the thylacine had pouches in which they carried their young. The opening of these pouches faced towards the rear of the animal, rather than towards the head, like the kangaroo.
Thylacines often hunted in pairs as they did not boost great run speed, but compensated that with excellent stamina and often exhausted its prey through constant chase. Using powerful elongated jaws with a huge gape that could crush the skulls of its victims the thylacine hunted many different animals, including the powerful kangaroo.
The thylacines normally did not make any sound, though sometimes would make a quick double yip noise, no known recording of this noise exists. Thylacines were primarily nocturnal animals and little is known about their social habits.
From shot and captured specimens it seems that a typical thylacine litter was 3 or 4 pups which spent the early portion of there lives in the mothers pouch. Thylacines that were captured alive and put into captivity often died quickly, but some survived up to 13 years.
Col Bailey in his book Tiger Tales (2001) reports on trapper Reg Trigg who trapped a young female thylacine which was not seriously injured. He "managed to secure the terrified animal in a hemp sack. Transporting her safely back to his camp, he caged her in a hurriedly constructed timber pen. He named the young tiger Lucy and began to pamper her with every kindness, to which the wary animal gradually responded. A mutual bond of trust and affection slowly began to take effect ... Eventually able to feed Lucy by hand, she responded to his kindness by allowing the bushman to gently stroke her head, seemingly enjoying the experience immensely."
Col goes on to describe how Lucy became restless as winter approached and Reg eventually let her go. "Two years were to pass before one morning in early summer Reg's despondancy turned to joy. A mother tiger with two cubs patiently awaited him on one of his well-worn [trapping] trails. As if by instinct, Reg stopped short of the trio, and for some minutes man and beast faced each other, entranced, until at length Lucy turned and, together with her two cubs, walked slowly away into the bush. "Although Reg continued to trap the area for many more years, sadly it was to be the last time he would lay eyes upon Lucy or, for that matter, any others of her kind..." (pp7,8)
Although clearly the relationship was not as strong, say, as with a pet dog, we have to remember this was a captured wild animal. The fact it presented itself on a trapping trail and just sat there - with young! - is truly remarkable for a wild animal, and very much in contrast with the tiger's usually secretive habits.
Robert Paddle's book The Last Tasmanian Tiger (2000) has references to 18 pages under the term "pet thylacine" in its index. Page 11 simply mentions thylacines were kept as pets. Page 30 mentions one being kept in a cage which was later poisoned by neighbours. Page 31 quotes Kathleen Griffiths as saying her brothers kept a thylacine they'd snared as a pet which was later sold to Mary Roberts of Beaumaris Zoo.
The book goes on to cite many of these nineteenth century examples. Perhaps the pinacle example of the thylacine's suitability to being a pet is contained in the following short example. "William Breton, from his first contact with a captive thylacine, in which he noted that it 'can be tamed with ... facility' was enamoured of the species. He ... defended its captive personality from assumptions about the species in the wild: 'It is said to be stupid and indolent; but this is a mistake'. Finally, fourteen years after meeting his first pet thylacine, he was able to obtain one himself and proudly brought it along to the Royal Society meeting of 4 August 1847." (p 70)
As mentioned, this passage of Paddle's book details many of the 22 thylacines known to have been kept in captivity in the 1800s. One such reference is with regard to Mr Gunn who kept three thylacines to 1851, and more thereafter, who noted "'my living Thylacine is becoming tamer: it seems far from being a vicious animal at its worst, and the name Tiger or Hyaena gives a most unjust idea of its fierceness'" (p 71). Other quotations on this page include "extremely tame", "quite affectionate" and "behaved just like a dog and ... got very friendly".
As noted earlier, Paddle remarked that "it is not easy to locate nineteenth-century records of individually held captive thylacines" (p 70), but he goes on to say "far more specific details are known of the treatment and behaviour of privately held pet thylacines in the twentieth century. Captive thylacines were treated just like dogs: they wore collars and were walked on a lead." (p 72).
Quoting Graham, "Mr William Cotton [snr] came into the town of Swansea leading a Tasmanian Tiger, most people at the time were scared of the animal, and were amazed to see a person doing such a thing. ... Cotton ... had snares set about 4 miles [6.4 km] west of Swansea ... and ... one morning found he had caught a tiger. ... After some consideration he cut a short pole about five feet long, and to the end attached a piece of rope ... and with a noose made on the end slipped it over the tigers neck, held him at bay, cut the snare, and set of [sic] to Swansea leading the tiger with him. He had great trouble to get the animal to travel, but after going a few hundred yards the animal started to act just like as if it was a dog, and followed along beside him for the rest of the way to Swansea with the lease of trouble" (p 72).
In 1973, Gary and Liz Doyle shot ten seconds of 8mm film showing an unidentified animal running across a South Australian road. Sceptics claim that attempts to positively identify the creature as a thylacine have been impossible due to the poor quality of the film- yet they overlook the physical apects of the animal displayed. It has a far different stride to a dog, a stiffer tail, thicker neck, and stipes can clearly be seen on its haunches.
In 1982 a researcher with the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service, Hans Naarding, observed what he believed to be a thylacine for three minutes during the night at a site near Arthur River in northwestern Tasmania. The sighting led to an extensive year-long government-funded search.
In the 1980's, there was someone in the Gippsland region that have had a tassie tiger as a pet. This person had found the tiger as a young. It had fell out of the pouch and couldnt get back.
He took the animal home and fed it and it stayed at his place as a "pet" This person also made a LP record and its said you actually hear the tassie do its "couch bark" in one song.
The person was very alone, had no TV, telephone or newspaper, because he hated being with people. He lived for the animals, helping alot of kangaroos also. It was a close friend to him that made the LP aviable and sold.
On a rainy night in March of 1982 a NPWS park ranger was sleeping in the back seat of his car when something woke him up. He turned on his spotlight and turned it onto an animal about 20 feet away. The ranger reported what he saw was a Thylacine, "an adult male in excellent condition, with 12 black stripes on a sandy coat." The creature quickly ran off into near by brush, its footprints and all other evidence washed away by the rain.
In order to keep people from going to the area of this sighting and disturbing a possible habitat of the last living Thylacines, the NPWS kept this report from the public until January 1984. This sighting did not prove the existence of living Thylacines to the government's satisfaction though, and no official statement was issued.
In 1985, Aboriginal tracker Kevin Cameron produced five photographs which appear to show a digging thylacine, which he stated he took in western Australia.
In January 1995, a Parks and Wildlife officer reported observing a thylacine in the Pyengana region of northeastern Tasmania in the early hours of the morning. Later searches revealed no trace of the animal.
In 1997, it was reported that locals and missionaries near Mount Carstensz in Western New Guinea had sighted thylacines. The locals had apparently known about them for many years but had not made an official report.
In February 2005 Klaus Emmerichs, a German tourist, claimed to have taken digital photographs of a thylacine he saw near the Lake St Clair National Park, but the authenticity of the photographs has not been established.
The photos were published in April 2006, fourteen months after the sighting. The photographs, which showed only the back of the animal, were said by the sceptics who studied them to be inconclusive as evidence of the thylacine's continued existence.