The Last Known Footage Of A Thylacine Has Just Been Released To The Public

Tasmanian tigers were actually marsupials, and so named due to their distinctive stripes. EJ Keller/The Smithsonian Institution/Public Domain

The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) has released a "new" lost film of what is thought to be the last known footage of a thylacine, aka the Tasmanian tiger (despite being a marsupial and looking nothing like a tiger apart from its stripy back).

The species is thought to have gone extinct back in 1936, when "Benjamin" – the last confirmed member of the species – died in captivity at Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo. Not much footage survives of the thylacine, with fewer than a dozen films of it believed to exist, all of which were taken of captive animals at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania and London Zoo. This latest footage was found in a long-forgotten travelogue Tasmania the Wonderland, and has now been digitally preserved in 4K. 

It was filmed at Beaumaris Zoo around March 1935, a full year after the previous last known footage of the thylacine was recorded. The video showing the Tasmanian tiger hasn't been seen publicly for 85 years. Be warned, it shows a zookeeper rattling the cage of the animal, which the NFSA speculates might have been to get more interesting behavior from the thylacine, or to elicit one of their impressive-looking "threat yawns".

Just 18 months later Benjamin died, and on September 7, 1936, the species became extinct (though not all scientists agree).

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Reports of sightings of thylacines in the wild continued long after Benjamin died, with many people hopeful that they might still be alive out there somewhere (stranger things have happened; this giant tortoise was rediscovered ambling on an island in the Galapagos in 2019, 113 years after it had last been sighted).

In September 2019, Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water, and Environment released a document of eight possible but unverified sightings over the previous three years. The Thylacine Awareness Group even believes the animal still roams around mainland Australia, with occasional grainy footage being offered as evidence.

 

This would be extraordinary, as Dr Cath Temper, a mammals expert from the South Australian Museum explained in 2016 after one such sighting: "There's never been a thylacine specimen from the mainland." Despite persisting in Tasmania until the 1930s, the species is believed to have been wiped out from mainland Australia around 3,000 years ago

Before those "sightings" get your hopes up, one study in 2017 put the odds of the animal still surviving at 1.6 trillion to one, while another in 2018 disagreed with the math but still came down on the side that it was probably extinct, though "there is enough uncertainty to at least leave this open as a slight possibility." It's much more likely the footage shows a fox or a dog – thylacine roughly translates as "dog-headed pouched dog" after all.

Until scientists, who have so far sequenced the genome of the animal, get a move on and clone it, we'll have to make do with what little footage we have of these remarkable creatures.

 

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