Did the Tasmanian Tiger Survive Longer Than We Thought?
A new analysis of Tasmanian tiger sightings suggests the animal may have survived into the late 1980s. The study also offers insight for finding other species feared extinct.
A new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science of the Total Environment has revealed that the last Tasmanian tigers, also known as thylacines, might have survived into the late 1980s and possibly beyond. The date 7 September 1936 was generally considered to be the day the world’s last remaining Tasmanian tiger died in a zoo in Hobart. The researchers analysed 1,237 observations and claimed sightings of the animals since 1910 and gave them a quality score, ranging from reliable records backed by a physical specimen, whether alive or dead, to sightings by experienced bushmen or fleeting glimpses from untrained eyes.
Based on the new research, the most likely location for the last thylacines was somewhere in the middle of the north-west of Tasmania, around Waratah. Prof Barry Brook, of the University of Tasmania and lead author of the study, said that while regular credible sightings of the animals continued into the 1960s, there was “natural attrition” of people who had been around long enough to have ever seen one. “But if you’re talking about people who knew wildlife, then there are still occasional credible sightings in the 1980s,” Brook added, pointing to the experience of park ranger Hans Naarding who in 1982 told bosses he had stood for several minutes with his torchlight fixed on a thylacine.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature officially declared the thylacine extinct in 1982, after numerous attempts over decades to find them failed. Dr Stephen Sleightholme, a co-author of the research from the International Thylacine Specimen Database, said that the thylacine had “captivated the public’s imagination for decades and inspired many efforts to prove its ongoing existence”. “Our study shows that there is still much to learn about its history and ecology,” he added.
Prof Andrew Pask, of the University of Melbourne, who is part of a team trying to work out ways to resurrect the thylacine using DNA from the animal, supported by genetic samples from its relative the numbat, was not involved in the new study. He thinks many people who were convinced they had seen a thylacine may have just seen modern canines, as thylacines resembled a dog. “It’s become like our Loch Ness Monster or big foot – an almost mythical creature – but I like [that some people still think they see them] because it keeps the memory of them alive and reminds people of this amazing animal that we hunted to extinction,” Pask said.