Last Known Footage of Extinct Thylacine Discovered (Video)

CC BY 2.0. Wikimedia Commons

Filmed in 1933, the 21-second newsreel clip shows the last Tasmanian tiger on the planet.

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 the Tasmanian tiger. But as is the fate of all too many species, human folly put an end to them. The last thylacine in the wild was believed to be killed in 1930; the last one in captivity, Benjamin, died at Hobart's Beaumaris Zoo on September 7, 1936.

Given that 1930s zoo crowds didn't come bearing iPhones, there is very little footage of the animals; in all, there are fewer than a dozen films featuring the striped mammal, comprising just over three minutes of footage.

But now, the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) has digitized and released a 21-second clip of Benjamin. The footage comes from a 1935 film, "Tasmania The Wonderland," a "talkie travelogue" complete with classic Mid-Atlantic narration.

The film hasn't been seen in 85 years and shows poor Benjamin in his old-school zoo enclosure. "At one point, two men can be seen rattling his cage at far right of frame, attempting to cajole some action or perhaps one of the marsupial’s famous threat-yawns," notes NFSA.

NFSA Curator Simon Smith says, “The scarcity of thylacine footage makes every second of moving image really precious. We're very excited to make this newly-digitised footage available to everyone online.”

Prior to this footage, the most recent known film of Benjamin was made in 1933, making the glimpses in "Tasmania The Wonderland" the last known moving images of the now-extinct animals. As the narrator explains in the film, ”[The Tasmanian tiger] is now very rare, being forced out of its natural habitat by the march of civilization" ... a march that we just can't seem to quit.