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Thylacine, the Extinct Marsupial

Updated on March 10, 2012

Darwin described natural selection as survival of the fittest. A more accurate statement would be survival of the greedy. Over the course of human history, different species have fallen victim to the greed and ignorance of man. Their blatant apathy for the environment and its inhabitants in the name of progress has been deplorable over the centuries. There is not one case that better describes this then the Tasmanian Tiger or as it’s known by its proper name, the Thylacine.

The Thylacine was a native marsupial on the mainland of Australia and Tasmania that was hunted into extinction because they were considered pests. Their loss is now considered a tragedy caused by human interference and ignorance that must be prevented in the future.

The animal itself was a large carnivorous marsupial now believed to have gone extinct in 1936 with the death of the last one in Hobart Zoo in Tazmania. It was the only member of the family Thylacinidae to survive into modern times. It is also known as the Tasmanian Tiger or Tasmanian Wolf because of its canine and feline characteristics. Before Europeans began the colonization of the south Pacific, the Thylacine roamed the area for ten millions years as the dominant carnivore. There have been cave paintings found dating back millions of years showing the animal in many different forms. This evidence suggests that Aboriginal people in Australia used the Thylacine as a food and trade item according to the Journal of CryptoZoology. The animal was sandy yellowish-brown to grey in color and had distinct dark stripes across the back from shoulders to tail. The Tasmanian Tiger also had the typical characteristics of a Marsupial. It had an external pouch that their young would be cradled in until they were mature enough to venture out on its own. Unlike other Marsupials though, both genders had pouches, not just females.

The Thylacine was widespread over continental Australia, extending south to Tasmania. Although it had disappeared from mainland Australia thousands of years ago, in Tasmania the species was widespread. According to the National Museum of the Thylacine, the disappearance of the species in mainland Australia has been attributed due to the introduction of Dingo’s by the Aboriginal People. The island of Tasmania was the last stronghold of the Thylacine before the “civilized” Europeans came.

The species had started to decline in population in Tazmania because the Dingo’s influence in Australia soon reached Tazmania. Soon the European settler’s started colonizing Tasmania. Many of the colonists feared and distrusted the creature because of its wolf like characteristics. Even though these animals were already on the decline and sightings were rare, the settlers believed them to be a pest that threatened their farm animals. Soon, fake pictures were constructed showing stuffed Thylacine’s with farm animals in their mouth to increase rage against the animal. There was no proof whatsoever that they ever attacked farm animals or was a threat to humans. What was also curious was that the photos were all taken in the daylight however, the Thylacine was nocturnal and only hunted at night. Soon the campaign was mounted against the specied and people started heeding the call to action. The Van Diemen's Land Company introduced bounties on the Thylacine from as early as 1830 because the animal threatened their profit margins and this was an easy solution to the problem. To make matters worse, between 1888 and 1909, the Tasmanian government also offered a bounty and paid £1 per head for dead adults and ten shillings for pups. In all they paid out 2,184 bounties, but it is thought that many more Thylacines were killed than were claimed for according to Brittania. The bounties along with the destruction of its natural habitat led to the extinction of the species. The last known specimen died in captivity in 1936 at Hobart Zoo in Tasmania of maltreatment.

Soon, people and organizations realized the cruel reality of their apathy and ignorance. Many groups realized the Thylacine was in severe danger and started advocating relocation and reintroduction of the species to other places on the island of Tazmania and Australia. Official protection of the species by the Tasmanian government was introduced on July 10th, 1936, 59 days after the last known specimen died in captivity. A Thylacine has never been seen again in any form after the official order of protection from the Government of Tazmania. According to the National Muesum of the Thylacine, the species was finally declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1982. The realization finally hit that the animal was gone and people soon became emotionally attached to a species it deemed demonic 50 years prior. People of Australia and Tasmania adopted the Thylacine as a national symbol putting it on national crests and money. However, the apparent extinction has not been in vain. Marsupials have been identified as national treasures that need protection no matter if they are endangered or not. Many natural habitats have been designated to be protected from development and hunting that might contain marsupials. The Tasmanian devil is also now under the highest level of endangered species protection in the world thanks in part to the tragedy.

There is hope that the Thylacine will roam the outback one again. Although the animal is now gone, people still report many sightings of the creature. These sightings have moved groups to setup foundations for the rediscovery of the species. A rigorous attempt to clone the animal has been engaged since 2000 with the recent success of activating Thylacine genomes in baby mice.

The facts remain clear however that this avoidable tragedy is a prime example of human ignorance and superstitions. In the end, a creature that survived millions of years was wiped out in a matter of a few decades due to greed, ignorance, and human indifference. The extinction however was not in vain and has paved the way for preservations of other marsupials from extinction.

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    • khmazz profile image

      Kristen Mazzola 5 years ago from South Florida

      Voted up for sure! Great information on this interesting creature. It is so sad that it is no long with us, hopefully we can do more as a society to help lessen the extinction rate in the world.

    • Paradice profile image

      Paradice 6 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      You are very welcome! It is indeed very upsetting to know that the human race is the cause of an animal's extinction that was here even before our time.

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 6 years ago from Southwest England

      This is such a sad story, thanks for writing about it. There is definitely a lesson to be learned here as more and more species are in danger of extinction as a result of man's actions.