Scientists Have Worked Out The Probability That Tasmanian Tigers Still Exist

The Tasmanian Tiger (aka the thylacine) at a zoo in New York, 1917. Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr. No Copyright Restrictions.

Researchers of an upcoming scientific expedition are currently packing their bags for an investigation into the numerous sightings of the supposedly extinct Tasmanian tigers in Queensland, Australia. While the team are pretty skeptical they will actually document the mysterious thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), it seems like their chances are even tougher than they thought.

In fact, the odds that thylacines are still alive are one in 1.6 trillion. That’s according to an unreviewed study led by biologist Colin Carlson, which concludes “there is only an extremely low probability” that the thylacine is still alive in 2017. An extremely low probability is perhaps an understatement. The study is available to read on the preprint server bioRxiv.

The researchers compiled all physical evidence, expert-validated sightings, and unconfirmed sightings of the Tasmanian tiger since 1900. They then ran this through a statistical model that worked out that the probability was as low as one in 1.6 trillion.

“The search for the thylacine, much like similar efforts to “rediscover” the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker and other recently extinct charismatic species, is likely to be fruitless – especially given that persistence on Tasmania would have been no guarantee the species could reappear in regions that had been unoccupied for centuries,” noted the study authors.

The last confirmed Tasmanian tiger, known as Benjamin even though it was probably a female, died at Hobart Zoo on the island of Tasmania in September 1936. However, this research suggests that it's “fairly plausible” that they actually went extinct in the 1940s or, at the latest, the 1950s.

Even still, there’s been an intriguing number of sightings in mainland Australia and Tasmania, as well as some researchers and local Aboriginal people who adamantly believe the thylacine is alive and well in Australia. There were even some fresh sightings, along with some rather grainy footage, of a thylacine-like animal roaming around South West Victoria last year, although they were widely dismissed.

With a head like a wolf, a striped body like a tiger, and a pouch like a kangaroo, the Tasmanian tiger is certainly a strange sight. This carnivorous species might look a bit like a dog or cat, but this marsupial is simply an example of convergent evolution, a process of independent evolution of similar features in species of distant lineages.

[H/T: New Scientist]

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