Until a few thousand years ago, Australia was once home to a huge array of creatures both large and small. Now, only a small snapshot remains, but evidence of the giants that once roamed still exists. Researchers have been documenting the footprints of the extinct animals, from thylacines to giant wombats, frozen in time on Kangaroo Island.
Preserved in the rock of the coastline are the footprints of those that have gone extinct in the distant and not too distant past. The amazing discovery of countless tracks from over 300 individuals and spanning a whole host of species, from marsupials to reptiles, were brought to the attention of scientists in 2011 by Kangaroo Island residents, and have been studied since.
Researchers have found the imprints of quolls, for example, which now only cling on in the mainland, as well as those of the Tasmanian devil, long restricted to the eponymous island off the southern coast.
Yet these are not the most intriguing prints to have been found on Kangaroo Island. Scientists have also found the tracks of the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, a creature only recently driven to extinction by humans in 1936, though it is thought to have been extinct on the mainland thousands of years earlier than this.
Going further back in time still, and the most striking discoveries are probably those of footprints made by some of Australia’s long-extinct megafauna. The southern continent used to be teeming with a whole variety of giant marsupials, and at one point, a massive Diprotodon must have wandered across the island. Weighing in at 2 tonnes and standing 2 meters (6.6 feet) tall, they would have looked a bit like a huge wombat.
The team also discovered footprints from the giant short-faced kangaroo.
“This site can provide important information about the Island’s prehistoric wildlife, its distribution and behavior, to support and contrast with skeletal fossil discoveries,” explains Dr Aaron Camens, who has been studying the footprints, in a statement. “In fact, the data collected during this six-year project will both to inform us of behavioural, anatomical and locomotory characteristics not preserved by skeletal fossils, and provide new palaeo-ecological information regarding the extinct Australian megafauna.”
The researchers will continue to study the prints found on the island and delve into the weird and wonderful zoological past of Australia,