Many Australians think that present-day sightings of the Tasmanian tiger – aka the thylacine – are on a par with seeing the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland. Nevertheless, the past few years have brought numerous credible sightings of this supposedly extinct creature.
To try and finally separate the fact from the myth, a group of scientists is preparing to launch a search for the Tasmanian tiger deep in the far north of Queensland, Australia.
Scientists from James Cook University will place 50 camera traps baited with lures to collect information on two sites in north Queensland. The cameras will be able to detect all species, so regardless of whether they actually spot a Tasmanian tiger, the researchers have said the data will be put to good use. The field work will begin in April this year.
The last Tasmanian tiger, known as Benjamin, is believed to have died at Hobart Zoo on the island of Tasmania in September 1936 (video below). With a head like a wolf, a striped body like a tiger, and a pouch like a wombat, these marsupials were proud apex predators that once roamed across mainland Australia and Tasmania.
Historical footage of the last Thylacines at Beaumaris Zoo in December 1933
Archeologists have found engravings depicting thylacines in the Aboriginal rock art of mainland Australia from at least 3,000 years ago. It's thought they went extinct from the continent’s mainland around 2,000 years ago, largely due to the invasive species of the dingo. Although early European colonizers noted their numbers were slim, the thylacine managed to cling on in Tasmania until the 20th century. Even in their isolation on the island, their numbers fell to dismal proportions due to continued competition from dingos and overhunting by humans. Eventually, by 1936, they were supposedly no more left in the wild or in captivity.
Although early European colonizers noted their numbers were slim, the thylacine managed to cling on in Tasmania until the 20th century. In their isolation on the island, their numbers fell to dismal proportions due to continued competition from dingos and overhunting by humans. Eventually, by 1936, they were supposedly no more left in the wild or in captivity.
However, many people theorize that a few managed to escape the wrath of extinction and quietly live on in isolated pockets of Tropical North Queensland. Since the 1930s until recently, there have been thousands of unconfirmed sightings of them in Queensland from the local residents, campers, and park rangers.
“One of those observers was a long-time employee of the Queensland National Parks Service, and the other was a frequent camper and outdoorsman in north Queensland,” Professor Bill Laurance, co-investigator of the project, said in a statement. “All observations of putative Thylacines to date have been at night, and in one case four animals were observed at close range – about 20 feet away – with a spotlight.
“We have cross-checked the descriptions we received of eyeshine color, body size and shape, animal behavior, and other attributes, and these are inconsistent with known attributes of other large-bodied species in north Queensland such as dingoes, wild dogs or feral pigs.”
This is perhaps one of the most scientific searches for the Thylacine put together in recent decades. Although that doesn’t mean people haven't been searching for it. In 2005, the Australian magazine Bulletin and a Tasmanian tour operator put up a reward of AUS $3 million (US $2.2 million) for the live capture of a thylacine. Many dismissed the competition as self-promotion for the magazine and, needless to say, nobody claimed the prize.
Perhaps after all these years of unconfirmed sightings and grainy video footage, the truth will finally be revealed?
You can download Expedia.co.uk's "Unknown Tourism" travel posters of extinct animals for free on their website. Although this may need to be updated soon.