After being missing for over 85 years, the long-lost remains of the last-known thylacine, aka the Tasmanian tiger, have been discovered in a dusty cupboard of a Tasmanian museum.
The last thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) died in the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart on September 7, 1936, plummeting this unique species into extinction. There is black-and-white footage of a thylacine at the zoo that was widely believed to be the last of its kind. However, the new research suggests that the animal in this footage was, in fact, the penultimate thylacine.
It turns out, the actual last thylacine was an old female that had been captured by trapper Elias Churchill from the Florentine Valley and sold to the zoo in May 1936. It died just a few months after arriving at the zoo and its body was sent to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG), but the curators didn’t label it properly because it had been caught illegally.
“For years, many museum curators and researchers searched for its remains without success,” Dr Robert Paddle, a thylacine expert, said in a statement.
“No thylacine material dating from 1936 had been recorded in the zoological collection, and so it was assumed its body had been discarded."
In an upcoming study, Paddle and Kathryn Medlock, Honorary Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at TMAG, studied an unpublished museum taxidermist’s report dated 1936-37 that mentioned a thylacine. This prompted a review of their specimens in the TMAG storage, eventually revealing that they had the last thylacine in existence from 1936 within their collection.
“The thylacine body had been skinned, and the disarticulated skeleton was positioned on a series of five cards to be included in the newly formed education collection overseen by museum science teacher Mr A W G Powell,” explained Medlock.
“The skin was carefully tanned as a flat skin by the museum’s taxidermist, William Cunningham, which meant it could be easily transported and used as a demonstration specimen for school classes learning about Tasmanian marsupials,” she added.
With a head like a wolf, a striped body like a tiger, and a pouch like a kangaroo, the thylacine is undoubtedly a strange and fascinating creature. This carnivorous species might look a bit like a canine, but it is actually a marsupial that's more closely related to kangaroos, koalas, wombats, wallabies, and bandicoots.
Humans and overhunting were largely responsible for the species' demise. Farmers put private bounties on the animals during the 1840s and they were even subjected to a government-sponsored extermination campaign in the 1880s.
With the help of the last thylacines remains, the researchers hope they can continue to keep the legacy of this wonderful weird species alive.
“It is bittersweet that the mystery surrounding the remains of the last thylacine has been solved, and that it has been discovered to be part of TMAG’s collection,” TMAG Director Mary Mulcahy said.