After Sightings, the Search Is on for Extinct Thylacine

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Photo of thylacine
CC BY 2.0.

Wikimedia Commons

The last of these dog-like animals, also known as Tasmanian tigers, was thought to have died in 1936. But might they still be lurking elusively in the wild?

Like sightings of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster, eyewitness accounts of the thought-to-be extinct thylacine are often met with no small dose of skepticism. The largest carnivorous marsupial of the modern era, the beautifully striped thylacine once roamed mainland Australia, where it is believed to have become extinct some 2,000 years ago. In the wilds of Tasmania, however, it lived on, bearing the common name of Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf. But as is the fate of all too many animals, the last lone thylacine in the wild was believed to be killed in 1930; the last one in captivity died at the Hobart zoo in 1936.

While there was hope that perhaps a few stalwart members of the species has surreptitiously survived, the thylacine was officially declared extinct in the 1980s.

But that hasn’t stopped people from reporting sightings of the long-extinct creature. And now, detailed possible sightings of a Tasmanian tiger in north Queensland, Australia, have prompted scientists to undertake a search for the species, reports The Guardian.


Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Professor Bill Laurance from James Cook University says he has “plausible and detailed descriptions” from two people about mystery animals they had seen in Cape York peninsula; the animals could possibly be thylacines. One of the witnesses is a long-time employee of the Queensland National Parks Service; the other a frequent camper.

The descriptions of the sightings – some as close as 20 feet away – described physical features that are distinct from other large species in the area, animals like dingoes, wild dogs or feral pigs.

Sandra Abell, a researcher with James Cook University’s Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science who was leading the field survey, said they had been contacted with more possible sightings since their intentions were publicized, notes the Guardian.

Her team will install 50-plus camera traps for a survey that will begin this spring. Is she confident they will snare a snap of a Tasmanian tiger? Not exactly, but she says it’s not impossible.

“It’s not a mythical creature. A lot of the descriptions people give, it’s not a glimpse in the car headlights. People who say they’ve actually seen them can describe them in great detail, so it’s hard to say they’ve seen anything else.

“I’m not ruling it out at all,” she says, “but to actually get them on camera will be incredibly lucky.”

Black and white photo of thylacine or thylacine-like animal
credit: Unknown photographer, 1933

Unknown photographer, 1933/Public Domain

Whether or not hard evidence of the thylacine’s survival is found, the scientific search itself gives credence to the potential that they’re out there. And while confirmation that they defied extinction would be incredible news in times when animals are facing such disheartening declines, maybe (fingers crossed) the Tasmanian tiger’s elusiveness has been the secret to its success all along.